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Hot Docs 2015 Review: The Circus Dynasty

In this intimate documentary we are given a glimpse not only of European circus pedigree but also the reality of growing up in a circus.

Patrick Berdino is the heir to Europe’s biggest circus. Merrylu Casselly and her brother Rene are the next generation of Europe’s most famous circus artist family. It is the dream of the two families that Patrick and Merrylu will fall in love and together take over Arena circus. The two are born into the circus and start out as playmates then eventually after years of pestering each other become lovers. They have their own trailer and their own Pas de Deux act on horseback. All seems like the fairytale both families have dreamed for but director Anders Riis-Hansen dares to take a closer look. Hansen manages to create a documentary that is subtle yet revealing, without resorting to any of the reality television gimmicks that now permeate documentary making.

In the claustrophobic trailer homes after hours of grueling training, only the toughest bonds can survive. Young love, statistically doomed to end, is truly put to the test in this kind of environment.

Although not the film’s focus, the hyper femininity and sexuality imposed upon Merrylu as part of her act (the perma-smile is always there even as she puts her body through performance hell) no doubt add to the stresses of being a young woman. In the end this film is not so much about being circus royalty as it is about making your own decisions when so much has been imposed upon you.

[star v=4]