What makes a monster, and what makes the man? This is an ancient artistic trope which finds itself in a variety of art, literature and media, perhaps nowhere quite like the circus. Winner of five Gold Movie Awards, Monstrus Circus takes this trope and brings it to the Highlands of Scotland to blend an archaic story-telling narrative with unique visuals, stylistic camera work and sublime colour use.
Leonard, a magician, has the idea to set-up a circus of freaks in Scotland. Together with clown Auguste (who is portrayed by director Jordan Inconstant) the band of hypnotists, strong-men and vampiric opera singers make for just beside Loch Ness. Unable to see the beauty in others, Edgar Finnigan (Louis Donval) finds himself at the raw-end of Leonard’s magic. This modern fantasy fuses traditional moral lessons with a contemporary message of acceptance.
In a way their feature-length counterparts often shy from, short films are pre-eminent in their experimentation. While Jordan Inconstant’s direction stays reasonably safe with narrative, the team find plenty to play with in terms of visuals, cinematography and Sylvain Ott’s musical composition. The interior shots take place in France, including warm set dressing alluding to classic fantasy, while exterior shots take place in Scotland, notably on the Isle of Skye. Upon seeing The Old Man of Storr, Inconstant captures Scotland in a manner only those with a profound love for the country are able.
With drone footage, which offers the wide, sweeping shots desirable to showcase the landscape, they achieve a tremendous accomplishment. Given the unreliability of weather, Monstrus Circus brings a calmness to the climate of Skye. The excitement in visuals lies in the framework for shots, with the odd Dutch angle sneaking into the film. A variety of shots are played with, knowing where to draw focus or distort our perception.
How can we identify a distinctively French creative team behind a production? Just look at the colour palette. Monstrus Circus, above all, is a mesmerically charming piece to watch, chiefly down to its triatic colour design which emphasises distinctive tones against the tempered (though striking) Scottish landscape. It causes the fluorescent yellows of the circus tent to leap out against the broad strokes of black waters of the loch. In truth, it rings of Goddard’s Contempt (1963) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), saturating the screen to an extent, without straying into garish.
Especially with Jeunet, Monstrus Circus finds itself firmly in the fantastical genre of film making. While this reinforces both the plot and colour scheme, it also lends itself to the visuals which comprise scrupulous VFX shots, putting large-scale productions to shame. There is indeed the odd snippet where we can see the technology behind the magic, but for the most part, a tremendous level of proficiency is at work for the special effects. The transformation of the base of Castle DunBroch into the circus tent is so skillfully done, for example, that the resulting illusion is just as impressive as the majestic castle itself.
When entering the fantastical, any effects need a tangible reality. With reliance on graphics for contemporary fairy-tales and science fiction, the uncanny valley draws too close. Monstrus Circus, however, finds that sublime balance between necessary computer visuals and special-effects make-up. Characters’ freakish forms, chiefly made-up of seven hours worth of make-up, showcase how dedication, ingenuity and a working relationship with computer effects can heighten the overall intent.
Our Auld Alliance is alive and breathing; with a distinctive French heart amidst the Scottish visage, it is a union of enchantment. Monstrus Circus is a testament to the experimental nature of short-filmmaking and how its creator’s talents know few boundaries – c’est magnifique!