★★★ out of four stars • Unrated; mature themes • Theater: Lagoon.
Aaron Schock's laconic documentary follows a frowzy family-owned carnival around rural Mexico, but it says as much about human nature as it shows about struggling entertainers. It proves that in the particular we find the universal. Every adult in the Ponce clan walks a tightrope between loyalty to the older generation and obligation to the next. The income from La Gran Circo de Mexico's ticket sales, homemade snacks and trinkets keeps ringmaster Tino's retired parents in comfort, but leaves him nearly destitute. "It's the load that makes the donkey walk," says his mother, Dona Lupe. Tino trains his children as jack-of-all-trades gymnasts/auto repairmen/animal tamers. He knows no other livelihood, and he's too pressured to prepare his children for anything else. Atop this everyday conflict floats a layer of beautifully surreal images. An animal from the menagerie is ingloriously dumped in an open field with Tino's diagnosis: "It woke up dead." His kids frolic in a deserted seaside resort. His daughter bends herself like a pretzel to please her father. When Schock films the girl beside caged tiger cubs, the resonance couldn't be clearer: This life of backbreaking migrant labor is both a tradition and a trap. Every frame has the spare elegance of Walker Evans' Depression photographs. Schock could even make a rust-acned truck look stunning.
FORKS OVER KNIVES
★★★ out of four stars • Unrated; graphic images of surgery • Theater: Lagoon
A persuasive documentary on the health benefits of a whole-foods and plant-based diet. With our debt-wracked nation spending five times as much on health care as on defense, why isn't more attention paid to healthy lifestyle choices? The answer, according to writer/director Lee Fulkerson, is that U.S. agriculture policy promotes diets that are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor, while high-tech/high-cost treatments are deeply entrenched in the health care establishment. Fulkerson marshals an array of statistics and studies to argue his points. He also follows a whole-foods regimen for 12 weeks and emerges visibly slimmer and, he claims, more mentally focused and vigorous. To combat the notion that real men are carnivores, Fulkerson introduces tough-as-nails vegan mixed martial arts champ Mac Danzig and an engine company of hyper-competitive Texas firefighters who have gone vegetarian. Mom was right. Eat your spinach. As an Egyptian proverb quoted in the film puts it, "One-quarter of the food you eat keeps you alive. The other three-quarters keeps your doctor alive."