Sad story of a waif, Gelsomina, who is sold by her mother to Zampano for 10,000 lire and a few kilos of food. Zampano is a traveling showman who exhibits feats of strength by breaking a chain wrapped around his chest. He performs in village squares and then passes the hat for whatever the normally small crowd is prepared to give. He teaches Gelsomina a drum roll as part of his introduction. He doesn't treat her well and when she tries to run away, he beats her. They eventually join a small traveling circus where they meet a tight-rope walker who convinces Gelsomina to question her choices. Written by
Fellini's "La Strada" is memorable, atmospheric, entertaining, thoughtful, and many other things. It is often sad, not even so much because of the things that happen, but simply for what it reveals about the human condition. It is sometimes surreal, not in a bizarre visual sense, but in the unexpected combinations of emotions that it sometimes evokes. And it is always human, commenting on individuals and humanity as a whole with a keen eye and with cinematic skill.
The three main characters make an odd and interesting mix of personalities. Anthony Quinn gives plenty of life to Zampano, who is hard to like, but hard not to have compassion for. Fellini's repeated filmings of Zampano's chain act bring out the pitiable side of his character even more so than the dramatic scenes do.
Giulietta Masina gives a rather stylized performance as Gelsomina, at times bearing a surprising resemblance to comics such as Harpo Marx or even Harry Langdon. Yet she is completely engaging and sympathetic, and she creates a memorable character. Richard Basehart likewise manages to make The 'Fool' an idiosyncratic, rather annoying, but again sympathetic character.
Fellini's approach, of course, adds much to the characters and to the story. Some of the vignettes, such as the wedding banquet sequence and the convent sequence, would stand up very well on their own with just a minimum of outside context. The camera is often used in subtle ways to bring out the symbolism or significance of the scene.
Nino Rota's music is also an essential part of making "La Strada" what it is, at times establishing an atmosphere all by itself. (And, while it is completely extraneous to an appreciation of "La Strada", there are moments when it is hard not to be reminded of Rota's score for "The Godfather".) Probably the only real weakness of the movie is the dubbing, which is too noticeable not to become distracting at times.
Finally, the movie is a worthy classic not least because Fellini, his cast, and his crew all work together to turn the lives of some very ordinary human beings into a worthwhile and sympathetic look at humanity.
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