Monday, March 28, 2011

Family Business: Circo

Running off to join the circus might sound romantic, but it involves a lot of hard work. Just ask the discontented wife of Circo Mexico’s ringmaster. The Circo has been owned and operated by the Ponce family since the Nineteenth Century, but its future is increasingly in doubt due to mounting debts and internal tensions. Aaron L. Schock documents the struggles of the Ponce family as they somehow manage to keep their show on the road throughout Circo (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The Ponce family and the Circo Mexico have always essentially been one and the same. They represent a grand tradition of traveling circuses throughout Mexico. Unfortunately, ringmaster-foreman-animal tamer Tino’s sisters have recently left the circus to settle down with house dwellers, which constitutes an act of betrayal on multiple levels. Ponce looks to his own children to pick up the slack, but their mother Ivonne is not happy about their workload. About the only thing the Ponce children are not doing is studying. She also resents her in-laws, whom she accuses of exploiting their labor. Indeed, Don Gilberto is not exactly media savvy, frequently caught on-camera counting money or making self-serving statements.

Ivonne Ponce’s reservations are certainly understandable, particularly when we witness the difficulties her husband has in merely signing his name. Ultimately, she is undoubtedly correct to argue any future opportunities for their children depend on education. However, after screening a film like El Velador about Mexico’s escalating drug violence, there is something to be said for the apparent security of Ponce’s Circo.

Aaron L. Schock (sorry ladies, not the Illinois Republican voted hottest freshman of 2009 by the HufPo) deftly walks the line between the intimate and the intrusive. There is no question though, the stakes are high for the Ponces and the emotional repercussions are considerable. (They are also freakishly flexible—at least the young ones.) Clearly, this is real drama unfolding. Not even heard during the interview segments, Schock wisely resists inserting himself into the film. Instead, he allows the Ponces to speak their unfiltered peace.

Above all, Schock capitalizes on the Circo’s photogenic nature, dilapidated though it might be. The original soundtrack by the conjunto-tejano-crossover band Calexico also helps propel the film along nicely. Encompassing universal themes of family and tradition, Circo is frankly one of the more engaging observational documentaries in a fair piece of time. Well worth checking out, it opens this Friday (4/1) at the IFC Center.