La Strada – IMDB 231/250
The second Federico Fellini film in my IMDb list, La Strada is an Italian movie starring Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina, a naïve young woman who is bought from her mother by the brutish Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a travelling strongman looking for a new assistant after his last one, Rosa (Gelsomina’s sister), mysteriously died.
As the two travel together; with Gelsomina seeing the world outside her home for the first time, they build a complicated relationship, with Zampana abusive physically and mentally to Gelsomina, who seems to strive to win Zampano’s love and affection despite the abuse she receives.
Their relationship is what La Strada is built on. The plot is a simple one of following these two around Italy trying to make money off of Zampano’s strongman act, but it is the relationship of the strongman and his assistant that takes centre stage.
But things become more complicated when the character of the fool (Richard Baseheart) is introduced. A relatively kind and playful clown, The Fool is the opposite and nemesis of Zampano, and quickly builds a friendship with Gelsomina, questioning why she stays with such a cruel man. This rivalry between Zampano and The Fool soon turns to tragedy, having a lasting himpact on Zampano and Gelsomina’s difficult relationship.
In terms of the way La Strada is filmed, the action and the cinematography, I would say it is dated, or at the least very culture specific. The acting is largely over the top, (but does improve in the more dramatic moments), and if there is one thing I don’t want to see in a film it is circus acts, with Zampano’s breaking the chain act shown at least four times in the movie.
But Gelsomina and Zampano are very interesting characters.
She is a very kind and quirky if somewhat dim-witted woman. Absolutely reliant on Zampano for food, money and a home when she is bought by him, she tries to change him into a better, more compassionate man, but is constantly rebuffed for her efforts.
Zampano interestingly remains the same throughout the film. Tough, aggressive, quick to anger, and though the fool teases him for really no reason, his over the top reactions to his pranks soon turn very violent, which leads to the climax of the film.
And it is finally here where we see something that perhaps Gelsomina has seen in him, a man who doesn’t want to be alone. The end of the film ends with him in tears, lost and alone. and for the first time we see Zampano’s fragility.
Ultimately though La Strada will struggle to appeal with today’s modern audience. It’s rather tedious at times and hard to invest in, with Fellini’s style better illustrated in La Dolce Vita I believe than here, with its more romantic portrayal of Italy and cinema in general.
Reportedly Fellini almost suffered a nervous breakdown due to his emotional investment into this film, and the early reviews seemed to suggest it felt almost incomplete, and that is kind of how I felt after watching it. It seemed unpolished, messy, and like Zampano unwilling to let too much emotion shine through.
But my main problem was with the character of the Fool. Apparently he was a character we were supposed to sympathise with and like, but I just found him annoying and obnoxious, to the point where I was kind of rooting for Zampano to get him. Probably didn’t deserve what happens to him but still.
La Strada has gone down as a classic piece of Italian cinema and one of Fellini’s finest. And as the first official winner of the Best Foreign Language film at the academy awards, it is certainly deserving of its place on this list.
It just wouldn’t be in mine.
La Strada: 4/10