Overview: This documentary features the legacy of Europe’s Arena circus group, the Casselly and Berdino families, and the struggles they encounter. Hansen & Pedersen Film og Fjernsyn; 2015; Not Rated; 90 minutes.
Behind the Circus Tent: The Circus Dynasty follows the Berdino Family, Europe’s Largest Circus Dynasty, and the Casselly Family, the World’s Most Award-Winning Artist Family. Traveling across Europe, the main concern for both of the families is the fate of their performance group and who will continue the legacy. It is almost easy, too easy. Merrylu Casselly and Patrick Bordino grew up together and only within the last couple of years, entered a romantic relationship. In the eyes of those all around them, they were the perfect pair. However, perfection does not last.
In the Circus Ring: Every documentary adopts a style of storytelling and the method here is shaky like the opening sequence, unfocused. The history of the families is not introduced in a direct fashion. Instead, it is gradually interwoven. By approaching it in this manner, the importance of the circus’s future is less imperative. Although Merrylu and Patrick are the key players in this film, when other family members are incorporated, it appears it is almost an afterthought to clarify who exactly that person is. One of the valuable aspects a documentary is able to leverage is perspective. One pivotal occurrence is an argument between Merrylu and Patrick. The whole fiasco seems rigged. The story progresses slowly and as if to save it from its sluggish state a moment of discord is thrown in. Where was the crew to document events as they unfolded? Even if they were not present, director, Anders Riis-Hansen could not retroactively bring the story up-to-speed.
The Act must Go On: Given the nature of The Circus Dynasty, circling horses and parading elephants, with balancing acts upon their backs, filming the performances is a challenge. The actions of the animals are unpredictable. Leaving caution behind, Riis-Hansen approaches on a personal level. However, the shots taken from a distance, the time-lapse, the circus tent, and Rene, Merrylu’s brother, leaping from one elephant back to the next, are some of the most visually enticing moments the documentary has to offer. The Circus Dynasty answered one of my many questions: what happens when there is an injury? Although Merrylu’s mother suggests dropping the act for the sake of her injury, it is still not an option as the family prepares to get ready for the act. It is a risk; the act leads up to Rene landing upon Merrylu’s shoulders. The pain must be hidden behind the mask of a smile. Of course, what is a circus without mentioning the infamous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey? The call to the world-wide spectacular is alluring, but the bond between the two families proves to be stronger, despite the disunity taking place later.
Final Thoughts: The Circus Dynasty is romantically focused without the passion of romance, offering little perspective on circus dynamics.