The Visual Poetry of the film: ‘Circo’

Aaron Schock’s documentary reveals the complex family dynamics of the tiny Gran Circo Mexico.

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
April 8, 2011

“Circo” is a marvel of a documentary, a clear-eyed and affectionate film that tells a remarkable story with both visual and personal sensitivity. More impressive still, it’s largely the work of one man.

Filmmaker Aaron Schock made eight visits to Mexico over a 21-month period to record the activities of the tiny Gran Circo Mexico and the 10-member Ponce family, including five children, who make it happen. He not only produced and directed, he was his film’s cameraman and sound recordist as well.

Interested in doing a project about the interior of Mexico and one that did not involve the specter of immigration, Schock got what he was looking when he came across this small but feisty circus. The show travels by camper and truck across some of the most rural parts of Mexico, staying one night or at most two in the tiny towns along the way.

Leader of the pack is Tino Ponce, proud of his place in a long line of Ponces who have owned circuses for more than 100 years. Working with his wife, his parents, his four children, a brother and a niece, he puts up and strikes the big top almost every night, takes care of the tigers and llamas, then drives to the next town and does it all over again.

It’s backbreaking work, an exhausting and grueling endeavor, but Tino is a true believer whose motto is “the circus forever.” Yes it’s difficult, he admits, “but when the show starts we become artists of the circus.” A performer since he was 6, he would be happy to die in this life.

Tino’s children, especially his oldest son Cascaras, are proud to have lives as entertainers and even happier not to have to go to school. Schock’s camera catches these young kids in what seems like perpetual rehearsal, practicing the acts they hope will carry them to adult success.

But this circus, it turns out, has more problems than the inevitable economic difficulties. There are complex family dynamics to be dealt with. Tino’s practical wife Ivonne, who ran away with him when she was but 15, comes from a “settled” family of town dwellers, and consequently she has never been completely accepted by Tino’s difficult parents, Don Gilberto and Dona Lupe…

(Read LA Times Review)

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  • published this page in Arts 2012-01-22 12:49:45 -0800