Circo: Film Review

This portrait of a traveling circus is a poetically crafted look at tradition as gift and burden.

Aaron Schock's first feature is a well-told tale, and though its compact running time makes it a fine TV fit, its visual poetry is worth a big-screen look.

Originally published on June 17, 2010.

The financial struggles of a family business, the balancing act between work and parenthood -- the documentary "Circo" revolves around universal themes that have been explored countless times. But the business it profiles is a particular world: an itinerant troupe of contortionists, clowns and animal trainers crisscrossing the back roads of Mexico. Aaron Schock's first feature, receiving its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is a well-told tale, and though its compact running time makes it a fine TV fit, its visual poetry is worth a big-screen look. It's noteworthy, too, as a film that's immersed in Mexican culture without reference to the country's neighbor to the north.

The Gran Circo Mexico is part of a hundred-year tradition in the Ponce family. As Schock follows the caravan, he finds that tradition smack up against the economic downturn and marital tensions. "Through the good and the bad, always the circus" is a mantra among the five adults and five kids who make up the enterprise; the words ring not only with pride but with the existential resignation one would expect from a Chekhov character.

Ringmaster Tino's children have inherited the performing gene, but his wife, Ivonne -- a town girl who fell for the circus boy -- weeps for the childhood they've given up. Abiding what she considers the ways of the past increasingly is difficult for her. She views Tino's father, who owns the circus, as the only one who benefits from the family's hard work. Schock apparently agrees: The few times the patriarch appears onscreen, he's counting money or badmouthing his other son's girlfriend.

For the Ponces, the world is divided into the circus and the towns. Like an artist baffled by the narrow horizons of the bourgeoisie, Tino's 5-year-old niece feels sorry for kids who do nothing except go to school and play. Her older cousin, deftly applying glitter to her eyelids, knows how to write only a handful of words. The image of tiger cubs in their cage delivers metaphorical punch -- one of the more obvious moments in this astute film.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production: Hecho a Mano Films/Independent Television Service
Director: Aaron Schock
Screenwriters: Aaron Schock, Mark Becker
Executive producer: Sally Jo Fifer
Producers: Aaron Schock, Jannat Gargi
Director of photography: Aaron Schock
Music: Calexico
Editor: Mark Becker
No rating, 73 minutes