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The Independent Critic

Aaron Schock
Mark Becker
The Ponce Family
75 Mins.
Spanish w/English Subtitles
First Run Features

  • Director Aaron Schock on the making of Circo
  • Follow-up: The Ponces now
  • Calexico on the making of the Circo score
  • 5.1 Audio Option

 "Circo" Review 
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Having been on the film festival circuit since its world premiere in June 2010 at the Los Angeles Film Festival, director Aaron Schock's Circo opens April 1st, 2011 at New York City's IFC Center before heading out for a limited nationwide release throughout summer 2011.

Circo is a wondrously photographed, emotionally honest portrayal of the Ponce family's grassroots circus as it struggles to survive amidst a hardened economy, mounting debt, dwindling audiences and a simmering family conflict that adds an emotional depth to the 75-minute doc that one seldom sees in this type of film. It's astounding, in fact, that the Ponce family maintained their presence in such a remarkably honest and authentic way, a testament to the fabric of their culture and to the integrity of Schock's direction.

Tino is the ringmaster, perhaps of both circus and family. He is determined to lead his parents' circus to success and has united, or at least harangued, his entire family in the endeavor including his mother, his four children and his wife, Ivonne, who increasingly resists his changes and begins to feel exploited by her in-laws. Somehow, Schock beautifully balances both the wonder of this old school circus as it has woven itself into the fabric of the Ponce family's lives.

Wisely, Schock avoids unnecessary histrionics and picking sides or becoming overly sympathetic as the dramas unfold. Instead, he allows the cinematic beauty that is inherent in these multi-layered scenarios to unfold naturally, gracefully and with dignity intact.

At times, Circo almost feels like a narrative feature with its twisting stories and unexpected turns. It is only after having watched the film that you sit there staring at the screen almost in disbelief that this story is, indeed, an intimate journey inside one family's unfolding life.

There is something about the Mexican culture that is simply mesmerizing, perhaps moreso because so much of what we here in America now see in the headlines involves conflict, violence and drugs. While this Mexico isn't quite the romanticized Mexico of years past, it is a reminder of the richness of the Mexican culture and the vitality of family life within it.

Circo is companioned by Calexico's spirited and inspired soundtrack, which is perfectly woven into Schock's luminous camera work. Both incredibly intimate yet universal in its themes, Circo is easily one of the documentary highlights of early 2011 and one can only hope this remarkable doc enjoys tremendous success throughout its arthouse run.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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