"The circus is tough and beautiful," says a talking head in Circo, Aaron Schock's documentary on the small, struggling, family-owned Circo Mexico. It's an apt description of the film itself, a riveting patchwork of interconnected dramas that include difficult in-laws, arguments about money and familial exploitation, and the wrenching tensions between honoring tradition and forging one's own path. Tino Ponce, his unhappy wife and their four kids are the primary focus of Schock's camera — he also does lovely work as the cinematographer — as he follows them and their extended clan (the Ponces have been in the Mexican circus biz for more than 100 years) in their battle against changing cultural tastes and the assorted tolls of their hard-knock life. Circo is filled with beautiful images and haunting moments, especially in the third act, when the family unravels as the film culminates in a final triumphant, haunting image. Perhaps the most moving element of the film is the way Schock captures the backbreaking work of sustaining the circus. He neither condescends nor fetishizes; instead, he respects the grind and is able to show — without judgment — how it sustains Tino even as it consumes those he loves.
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