Chapiteau Show

**

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Chapiteau Show
"That the film tests our patience due to the wearily extroverted characters and a distinct lack of laughter is undoubtedly more frustrating than the numb limbs arising from such an intimidating run-time."

Chapiteau Show is a film always likely to test the patience of its audience because of its lengthy run-time in this feature-length format. It lasts 207 minutes, or 3 hours and 45 minutes in old money. That the film also tests our patience due to the wearily extroverted characters and a distinct lack of laughter is undoubtedly more frustrating than the numb limbs arising from such an intimidating run-time.

The film tells us four inter-locking stories, and was designed for Russian television, each with a different chapter title – love, friendship, respect and co-operation – which hint at the narratives which follow. It might have worked on TV, as four separate episodes, but there are still major problems with Chapiteau Show which surely wouldn’t translate any better on the small screen.

Copy picture

The four stories are, to the film’s credit, rather intricately woven together with various characters from one narrative appearing briefly in another - the action all taking place at a Crimean tourist resort. For the most part, they are a lost bunch who arrive at this surreal Russian incarnation of Blackpool (minus the tower) searching for some kind of human connection. The cumulative effect is of a dizzying, gaudy sense of loneliness with a failure to communicate with one and other the seemingly important message.

In that sense, the film is well crafted and shows signs of an intelligent and inventive streak. However, that is nowhere near enough to maintain our attention or engage our sympathies. The collage of annoyingly eccentric characters are never quite believable, and certainly never interesting. Their attempts to cure the loneliness which draws them to the Chapiteau Show become frustrating rather than endearing, as they were perhaps intended.

But the biggest problem that prevents an enjoyment of the film is that it simply isn’t funny, and it tries so hard to be. I refute completely suggestions that cultural differences can stifle a comedy traipsing across continents. Sure, there may be some cultural nuances that don’t quite translate. But funny is funny. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Buster Keaton or Elia Suleiman. If it’s funny, they will laugh. And this isn’t.

Its deviations into surrealist humour – the characters bookend their chapters by performing at the Chapiteau Show, looking into the camera and singing a song about failed cyber-love or something else – also fall flat. Watching Marilyn Monroe dance around with someone dressed as an astronaut, who is then unzipped to reveal a man dressed as a bear which then chases around a matador waving his red rag, may have some bizarre Cold War connotations, but it’s just too weird and irrelevant to maintain more than the merest of baffled chuckles.

And this is emblematic of the film itself which, for the most part, is sluggish and incomprehensible but punctuated with the briefest of moments which entertain but then slip away again like the waking remnants of a foggy and disjointed dream. At almost four hours long, Chapiteau Show needs a hell of a lot more of those moments to justify itself.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2012
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Chapiteau Show packshot
At a Crimean resort, various characters cross paths with one another across an intricate multi-story narrative.

Festivals:

EIFF 2012
EastEnd 2012

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