The setting is Madrid, 1973. Javier (the pot-bellied, goggle-eyed, and grim Carlos Areces) becomes a clown, but not the kind you might expect. Rather than making his living on gleeful gags and slapstick, he is sad in life and on stage.
When Javier arrives at the broken-down circus with which he seeks employment, he meets a group of oddballs: a stuntsman, two quarreling animal owners, and a man enamored with his highly aggressive elephant.
And Natalia. Against his own best interests, Javier falls for Natalia (Carolina Bang), despite the fact that her boyfriend Sergio (Antonio de la Torres) is a woman-beating drinker ... and his boss. And he doesn't stop at women. A foolish decision, yes. But Javier isn't the first man to get stupid over a woman.
Sergio is the worst kind of useless so-and-so, thoroughly convinced of his own love for Natalia. Natalia seems to like being hurt, which is true of some women, but the film seems to approach misogyny as Natalia continually lays herself down at Sergio's feet and puts Javier in danger.
It could have been good. the violence, the relentless strangeness, the depiction of Javier's degradation at the hands of Sergio and others and his resulting inhumanity, but as the film releases a bombastic onslaught of clown fights, machine gun fire and explosions, it increases in both pretentiousness and implausibility. By the time Javier becomes the vengeful clown, there is no character to root for and no reason to care.
Although lead actor Carlos Areces is decent and Antonio de la Torres (Sergio) is plausibly repugnant, Carolina Bang, as the love interest, seems to be taking overacting lessons from the Daniel Radcliffe and Megan Fox school of acting. Her scream is grating enough to make you want to smack her, and the fact that I made that statement about a victim of dating violence is saying something. I'm not ruthless; she's just that annoying.
Pair the beginning of The Last Circus with just about any other conceivable ending and it becomes a winner. Give it this ending, and it fails. The ending is ludicrous, incomprehensible, and quite simply, a bore. You have been warned.