First Run Features // 2010 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // September 17th, 2011
Circo opens with the recording of a promotional message. It's not for radio, but for a speaker truck that will drive through the streets of a Mexican town, making sure everyone knows about the Circo Mexico's appearance.
The century-old Circo Mexico doesn't hit the big cities, ringmaster Tino Ponce says. The Ponce family serves as performers and crew, and its trucks and equipment have a generally battered look about them. The poor economy is cutting into admissions. If that weren't enough, Tino's wife Ivonne is starting to weary of the wandering circus life. Director Aaron Schock found all of this fascinating when he first saw the Circo Mexico, and he brings viewers into his fascination.
For the most part, the movie is fly-on-the-wall stuff of Circo Mexico setting up, performing, and traveling. However, the Ponces express their thoughts in narration over most of the scenes, giving viewers an insight into their lives and emotions over time. Their words are in Spanish, with English subtitles, but you won't have to know Spanish to get an understanding of their harsh lives.
"They work a lot," Ivonne says of her kids, who can set up a traveling circus and aren't afraid of tigers. It turns out that one daughter can barely write, since she didn't get to go to school on the road, so the hard work isn't the only drawback.
Schock says in the making-of that he was the crew for his movie, and he did an excellent job of it. The best scene finds the kids looking at a large house and talking about a more stable future; it's echoed in the stories of Tino's siblings, who seek stability but are still drawn to the circus. When you realize that Schock was a one-man band, his work is even more impressive.
Extras include a Q&A with the Ponce family at a showing, a brief making-of, and a look at the music of the movie. As with a lot of documentaries, you might wish Schock had included some of his unused footage.
Circo turns out to be about a family keeping up tradition and rough life on the road. It also turns out to be a great documentary. The official site has information about Netflix availability and a 2011-12 PBS showing; it also seems to be still making the rounds on the big screen. When Circo comes to town, head for the big tent.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Circo Mexico