Despite its name, La Gran Circo de Mexico is a small family affair that tours rural Mexican towns. Headed by Tino Ponce, who inherited it from his father, the circus is run with his wife Ines, four children and father, whose penny-pinching ways infuriate ringleader Ines. As long as the old man hoards the money or spends it on new equipment, the family will never prosper, and they're tired of working for indefinitely deferred success in larger cities. This simple conflict structures Circo, a surface-level drama that superficially skims both the atmosphere of their circus lifestyle and the narrative of the documentary. Shot on functional digital with equally functional framing, the film engages sporadically but mostly fails to take advantage of its under-documented milieu. Audience attention will probably be similarly underdeveloped.
For the first 15 minutes of his brief running time, Schock focuses on the circus uncritically, reveling in the sheer mechanics required to erect an old-fashioned tent or drive through a town to draw children's attention. In small Mexican provinces, this kind of circus is a regular attraction rather than an anachronism: Ponce wants to tour big cities by building his following, but whether this is really possible is unknown. Gradually, Schock shows that most of his family doesn't think so and wants to quit, a source of tepid drama mostly expressed directly to the camera.
There is one nicely staged shot of Tino and Ines discussing their children's unhappiness; with the camera positioned outside their window, the parents' dark presences are more compelling than anywhere else in the film. Schock's tempo is wearying: rather than allowing one intense moment to play out from beginning to end, he settles for moving at a brisk clip through his footage, sampling a little bit of everything he captured. There are lots of arguments and drama, but it all gets diluted into a thin stream adding up to less than the sum of its parts. Those interested in the milieu will see some interesting footage, both of the business of running a circus and the acts within it, but not even a great deal of that. The not-exactly-surprising revelation that the family is at odds within itself is the sole development in a film that stays emotionally static otherwise.
Distributor: First Run Films
Director: Aaron Schock
Screenwriters: Aaron Schock and Mark Becker
Producers: Jannat Gargi
Running time: 75 min.
Release date: April 1 NY, April 8 LA