The Casartelli family is one of Italy’s most prominent circus families; they are also well known in the Mediterranean countries, the Balkans, and even Israel, where they tour regularly—although the name Casartelli rarely appears on their circuses’ marquees. They have used different titles over the years, most famously Medrano—a title they purchased from the Swoboda family of Austria, and which had no connection (beside the use of its famous name) with the legendary Parisian circus.
The Casartellis run perhaps the most widely traveled circus organization in activity, having visited no less than twenty countries, some regularly, over the past sixty years (as of 2011)—sometimes with up to three units touring simultaneously. They are also active in the safari and theme park business. In contrast with typical century-old Italian circus dynasties, the Casartelli family managed to become in just a few decades one of the largest circus families in Europe; it counts today about one hundred members.
They have revived at its best the pre-war tradition of the great European traveling circuses-and-menagerie, with a large family-based company surrounded by some of the best acts in business. As artists, especially equestrians and animal trainers, the Casartellis won two Gold Clowns at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo (in 1996 and 2007), and they have given six command performances for four different Popes at the Vatican.
The first known Casartelli active in the circus was Giuseppe Casartelli, who performed in the 1850s—although not much is known of him. His sons, Pietro (1860-1922), who was known as a good hand-balancer, and Federico (?-?), an acrobat and clown, started the first Casartelli circus, with the help of their numerous offspring. As it was common in Italian circus families of the time, all of them were trained acrobats and equestrians (notably in bareback riders). When Pietro’s elder son, Umberto, better known as Romeo (1893-1933), died in 1933, the family split.
Umberto’s wife, the courageous and strong-willed Rosina, née Gerardi (1898-1974), went back on the road with her son Leonida (1924-1978) and her daughters Jonne (1919-1999), Liliana (1921-2004), and Lucina (1931- 2003). She became the matriarch of the Casartelli family, establishing through her progeny the basis of the Casartelli circus dynasty. With the three horses and a caravan she received after the family split, Rosina began to move slowly from the Italian northeast to the Piedmont region, hoping to rejoin her family’s Circo Gerardi. She set up a small traveling outdoor arena, offering equestrian and aerial performances with her children, while the audience sat on soapboxes.
What was originally a survival move actually paid off: By 1936, Rosina’s show was known as the Arena Rosa; by 1939, it was a full-fledged circus performing under a second-hand big top purchased from the Togni circus. By 1941, her circus had become a legitimate and respectable enterprise, known as Circo Aurora. During WWII, it played regularly the fairs of Tuscany, and Rosina combined her efforts in the winter with the Tognis, who ran what was by far at the time the most important circus in the country—and benefitted from the protection of the Fascist government. This association led to several Togni-Casartelli marriages, creating multiple ties between the two families.
Réalisateur(s) Laurent Préyale
Durée 90 mn