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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Starkiss: Circus Girls in India (review)

I’ve always found something vaguely sad and creepy about the circus, but nothing circus-y I’ve ever seen has been sadder or creepier than this stunningly tragic and oddly visually beautiful documentary about little girls sold — sold! — into the circus by their desperately poor parents. Dutch filmmakers Chris Relleke and Jascha de Wilde finagled their way into India’s traveling Great Rayman Circus, where they met a slew of girls, ranging in age from around 6 or 7 to their early 20s and most from Nepal, who are kept in isolation, taught dangerous acrobatics (“Starkiss” refers to one such stunt), and paid barely enough to work off the advance given their parents. Though the girls are rather dignified, considering the indignities of their lives — the circus owner doesn’t offer an education or allow them much knowledge of the outside world — and though even the very young girls have a hard-bitten wisdom, there’s a kind of tragedy in their story that goes beyond mere heartbreak. The girls talk about their sorrow and the pain of circus life — echoed by a proud and lonely male dwarf clown performer — that is so resolutely opposite to the image the circus sells and so contrary to the soft pastel palette Relleke and de Wilde employ, but it’s more than that. You come away with the sure and certain knowledge that life in too many regions of the world is so hard and mere survival is of such primary concern that the value of a single human life is of little consequence.

MPAA: not rated

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

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