“El Clown,” Emilio Rodriguez and Pedro Adorno’s tale of a circus clown’s rise to stardom as a pitchman, tracks the erosion of creativity through corporate branding with a healthy dose of absurdism. Pic’s sly portrait of the artist as a conflicted clown is rich in the meticulous craftsmanship it celebrates, its consummate slapstick deflating any overwrought Pagliacci operatics or facile art-vs.-commerce preciousness. Intelligent crowd-pleaser reps a rousing triumph for the burgeoning Puerto Rican film industry and, with savvy handling, could conjure a niche for itself under the indie big top.
Xavier Del Monte (Israel Lugo) is Flacotroco the clown, a member of a closeknit one-ring circus that is rapidly going under. Invited to audition to be the official spokesman for a hot dog franchise, Xavier suddenly skips out after a performance, leaving behind his sometime wife Gloria (Jessica Rodriguez), a not-so-high-wire walker, and beloved daughter Glorita (Tania Adorno).
At the circus, Xavier’s acts are seen only obliquely, in impeccably timed skits intercut with the delighted reactions of kids in the stands. At the audition, however, his solo talent is obvious compared with other hot dog clown wannabes.
Xavier gets the job, a new car, a fancy apartment and a new girlfriend (Cathy Vigo), the daughter of the ad agency owner. At the same time, his dissatisfaction at assuming the mantle of a corporate symbol begins to eat away at his craft and personality.
Lugo’s performance expertly balances poignancy and farce as Xavier’s newborn irritability and self-importance make one yearn for the impeccable artistry of Flacotroco’s three-clown boxing routine.
Meanwhile, back amid the sawdust and tinsel, the artistes have managed to buy the circus themselves and shape it into a more direct expression of their skills.
What makes “El Clown” so memorable is the fully fleshed-out contrast between the manic artificiality of the advertising worldand thesubversive simplicity of the circus, where the free-flowing energy among the performers and the audience is almost palpable.
Lenser-editor Gabriel Coss employs a hand-held camera and kinetic editing for circus scenes, while more stable medium-shots pin down the synthetic idiocy of the corporate conclave.
Ensemble thesping is excellent throughout. Performers belong to a long-standing theater troupe presided over by helmer Adorno, himself a circus vet, as is the venerable clown Tomate, aka Marcos Mazo, who supplies the film’s Felliniesque prologue and epilogue with appropriate flourishes.
Tech credits are spot-on, and the digital-to-35 transfer allows for both flexibility and clarity.