I tend to dislike circus movies, for the same reason I dislike circuses. Too much broad artifice and force-fed spectacle. But director Ingmar Bergman’s picture harbors no romanticized notions of circus life. His story sees a tired ringmaster and his mistress treat each other with shocking cruelty as each struggles to escape their lifestyle.
The film walks a tonal tightrope, interweaving comedic artifice with a dark undercurrent of frustration and regret. With every joy, a disappointment. Behind every win, a compromise. The finale delivers a satisfying feeling of inevitability. I struggle to remember another film where I’m glad it didn’t go darker. Now, if only Bergman could stage a convincing fistfight.