Clockwise from top left: Balada triste de trompeta / The Last Circus (Álex de la Iglesia, 2010), 800 balas / 800 Bullets (Álex de la Iglesia, 2002), The Oxford Murders (Álex de la Iglesia, 2008), El día de la bestia / Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia, 1995).
Balada triste de trompeta featured in one of my first posts on this blog as one of the films from last year that I most wanted to catch up with in 2011. I'm going to write a standalone post about the film in (hopefully) January -I need to watch it again before attempting to write anything of any decent length and I won't have the time until after Christmas. [I know I quite often say that and things still haven't materialised, but Nadie hablará de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto and a joint post about Los lunes al sol and Biutiful are still percolating in my brain, honest].
However, on first impressions it strikes me as a culmination of de la Iglesia's work to date and it will be interesting to see where he has gone with his next film, La chispa de la vida (due for release in Spain in January); Balada triste de trompeta almost feels like an end point in terms of certain themes that recur across the director's work. It is unmistakably 'an Álex de la Iglesia film' in terms of the vividness and inventiveness of the imagery and an extremity of violence that takes on an almost cartoon-like quality; this is filmmaking that is by turns both exhilarating and highly disturbing. The circus is the perfect setting for the lunacy, violence, dark humour, and cruelty that run through de la Iglesia's films; given the miscreants, misfits, and malcontents who populate his films, it is almost a surprise that he hasn't set a story in this world before (although several of his films take place within an entertainment setting -a television comedy double-act in Muertos de risa and a Western sideshow spectacle in 800 balas).
It was the sense that Balada represents a culmination of his work that made me watch the only two of his films that I hadn't seen previously: 800 balas and The Oxford Murders. 800 balas is in many ways a paean to cinema, filmmaking, and the type of films 'they don't make anymore'. The film takes place on old film sets in Almeria (the location for many Westerns filmed in the 1950s/60s, including Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy) where a former stuntman (Sancho Gracia) reenacts his glory days with a gang of reprobates as they stage a 'Western sideshow' for the dwindling number of visiting tourists. It is a warm tribute to a world that no longer exists. I had two surprises watching The Oxford Murders -1) that it was nowhere near as bad as the UK reviews had led me to believe, and 2) how little of de la Iglesia's normal visual style it contained; it was as if the tepid English sunlight had diluted his usual visual dazzling.
Then I decided to rewatch El día de la bestia because it is my favourite of his films (and one of my favourite films, full stop) - and as it takes place on Christmas Eve it seemed appropriately festive (insofar as a film about a priest (Alex Angulo), a TV psychic / paranormal expert (Armando de Razza), and a death-metal fan (Santiago Segura) attempting to stop the birth of the Antichrist can be 'festive'). I've never understood why it isn't available in the UK (likewise his Carmen Maura-starring La comunidad (2000)) given that several of his other films are, and it currently also seems to be OOP in Spain. If you get the chance to see it, do so -it is very funny and a deeply affectionate take on the horror film.