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"La Strada" established Federico Fellini as one of the best Italian
directors of his generation. Working with his usual collaborator, Tulio
Pinelli, the master created a human story that is still, as fresh
today, as when it opened. The fantastic musical score by Nino Rota
gives the film an elegance that transcend the poor background of the
people one sees in the movie. Also, the crisp black and white
photography by Otelo Martelli enhances our enjoyment.
This could be considered Fellini's first masterpiece. His previous work was, of course, excellent, but with "La Strada", he proved he had an amazing understanding of the characters he presents to us. It is almost as though, he had known these people all his life and just decided to incorporate them in a movie. This is a film that showed an Italy that had suffered a defeat during WWII. Italy was struggling to heal itself from the horrible times it had lived during the conflict and what the director and his collaborators show us is an impoverished country trying to cope with the new reality. La Strada" is a film about the suffering and hard times the citizens had gone through, but also shows hope in an uncertain future.
Zampano, the brutish street performer, was a man that showed no redeeming qualities. He returned to the beach shack where Rosa's mother and siblings live to tell them about her death. Watching the young and innocent Gelsomina, he figures he has found a substitute for the act. Zampano is a misogynistic man who only cares about his pleasure, not paying any attention to the needs of the young woman who is not street wise.
The film, in a way, is Fellini's type of 'road movie' because we are taken along the byways of the country, before the construction of the super highways, to witness Zampano as he practices his trade from town to town. Gelsomina soon catches on, and in her heart she believes Zampano is, in his own way, the man for her. Unfortunately, Zampano leaves Gelsomina whenever a new woman strikes his fancy. He uses Gelsomina as a slave.
When they meet Il Matto, the good natured tight wire artist, Zampano notices how Gelsomina responds to this kind soul. Il Matto, in spite of what he feels about Zampano, advises Gelsomina to stay with him. A fatal judgment it proves to be. Tragedy arrives when Zampano and Gelsomina run into Il Matto on the road. This incident unravels Zampano as he begins a spiral descent into hell because his conscience doesn't let him have peace, and in turn, Gelsomina, makes sure to let him know she knows the immensity of what he has done.
Zampano in abandoning Gelsomina thinks he has solved all his problems, but a few years later he comes across a young woman who is humming the song that Gelsomina used to sing. In fact, we learn what happened to the sweet girl, and we are shocked and saddened. Zampano, who seems to be a man without any feeling, upon learning this walks away, but his guilt gets the best of him and we watch him as he breaks down as the film comes to an end.
Anthony Quinn had one of the best moments of his long and distinguished career with Zampano. His understanding of this cruel man makes the film work the way it does. Mr. Quinn's interpretation of the street performer is real and we can see what kind of man he really is. Our perception of this man, who has led us to believe he has a heart of stone changes at the end when we see his breakdown.
Giulietta Masina is perfect as Gelsomina. This actress, married to Mr. Fellini, had an uncanny way of transforming herself into the young and naive woman and makes her come alive. Gelsomina personifies all the best qualities any person could aspire to have. It comes naturally for her to be good; Gelsomina doesn't have malice and is a grown up child in many ways.
Richard Basehart has some good moments in the film as Il Matto. In fact, Fellini elicited a great performance from this actor, who took a big gamble accepting the challenge that his character demanded from him. Mr. Basehart proved he was an extraordinary actor and it shows in this film.
"La Strada" is a film that will live forever thanks to the man who had the vision to bring it to the screen: Federico Fellini!
La Strada brings two souls together to tell a story that ultimately
displays humanity's finer aspects. The title gives a clue to the
meaning of Fellini's masterpiece: The Way. The brute, Zampano, buys the
urchin-like Gelsomina to be his traveling companion in his one-man
carnival act. He is physically and emotionally cruel to her. Her
longing to love and be loved, and her child-like, yet acute perception
of life, and desire to live it, despite hardships, makes her the
perfect complement to the selfish and despicable Zampano. Their
unification affects each other. However, although Zampano's harshness
adversely effects Gelsomina's life, it is her influence that will
eventually, and more significantly, change him. This may sound like the
familiar Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, but it is more than a love
story. It is about love, but it isn't until the very end of the film
that we realize it. More than love, it is about a man who gains insight
and awareness because of love. It is his finale transformation that
demonstrates both the frailty and vitality of the human condition. It
overpoweringly suggests that the individual, no matter how depraved, is
able to spiritually evolve.
Every frame and scene in this masterpiece has purpose and meaning.
It is the early sixties in Annapolis, Maryland. Although a Third Class
Petty Officer in the Navy, I am still in my teens & have never sampled
the cinema except for what Hollywood has had to offer. I have just
stumbled out of a theater & I am stunned yet aware that I have just
witnessed a work of art that was devoid of compromise. That work was La
Strada, a cinematic creation directed by Federico Fellini. I have
viewed this film several times since but it never pales & each time I
take away something new. In this post I'll concentrate on the main
characters & some of the cast.
Anthony Quinn was perfect for the role of Zampano, the grubby strongman performer touring the villages & countryside of post-WW2 Italy. No other actor of the day could have possibly brought what Quinn brings to the role. There may have been some European actor who would not have shamed himself in the part, but I can't think of who it might have been & certainly no actor known by Hollywood could have done so well as Quinn. One has to resort to other eras & reach far into the imagination to attempt such speculation. If Wallace or Noah Beery, sr. could have managed a not too corrupted Italian persona; perhaps. If Gilbert Roland had lifted weights & taken supplements for a year; maybe. Victor McLaglen could never have passed for Italian don't laugh he had the rugged looks & the physique. Ricardo Montalban? Too handsome. Ditto, Victor Mature. Mitchum was way too 'American.' Nehemiah Persoff, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, even Van Heflin, all considered, all rejected. Brando might have been credible. One remembers "A Streetcar Named Desire" & "On the Waterfront" & thinks: Possibly. But Quinn plays the role as if it was what he was put on earth to do.
Quinn's Zampano is earthily callous yet the viewer senses vulnerability buried deep within the character. Among other facets his perfect performance presents to the viewer is a faintly perceived inkling of past disappointments, of indirectly inferred reasons that Zampano is cruel & insensitive. Quinn's consummate technique paints the broad picture of a lout yet the viewer is able to pull a slender thread of sympathy from his character & that sympathy is necessary for the end of the movie. To be very bad & to still be likable, if only barely, is produced by Quinn as if it were a gift to the viewer. It is acting on the highest possible plane.
Giulietta Masina plays Gelsomina, a tattered urchin Zampano purchases from her poverty-bested mother. Here too, the viewer witnesses genius of casting. Masina's face is one of Fellini's main canvases in the film. It mugs, it displays pride, love & resignation in fleeting cascades of expression, sometimes all within a second. Even without the plasticity of her face her body alone would be enough to write volumes for the viewer. It gambols, prances, pratfalls & cunningly sneaks, sometimes at breakneck speed though the viewer's eye is never allowed to blur these perceptions despite the rapidity of much of the execution.
Richard Basehart plays the Fool, foil to Quinn's brute. Whereas Quinn's act subsists on feats of strength, Basehart's character is all about finesse: juggling, acrobatics & tightrope-walking. Zampano is awkward on those occasions that he attempts real affection toward Gelsomina. The Fool is light strokes of joviality; joking & flirting is his natural mode. Zampano's voice is gruff and in the baritone range; Basehart's lines are delivered high-pitched, with a lilting modulation. However, just as Zampano has an almost hidden vein of sensitivity, Basehart imbues his lighthearted portrayal with a close to imperceptible strand of hardness.
The vehicle of the plot is a journey, but a journey with no particular physical destination. In a work such as "Huckleberry Finn" Twain provides a direction(down-river with the current). Here the characters appear to wander aimlessly from place to place, seemingly interacting by chance with whoever they meet & somehow this very lack of goal helps to give the piece a lifelike aura of randomness. The viewer becomes unaware of watching a film. Like all truly great works of art, technique never intrudes & the viewer could be a fly on the wall.
This lack of artificiality allows the viewer to be fully immersed in the unfolding events. The landscape is the blasted Italian environment just after WW2 & is symbolic of the work's bleak message. The camera rolls on weeds, shacks, broken concrete, poorly maintained roadways, dry, desolate hinterlands & famine-ridden villages. There is no looking away allowed, the viewer is made to see, forced to behold stark realities.
It is impossible to say exactly what makes this film a masterpiece. By a mysterious & perhaps lucky combination of ingredients it propels itself into the highest circle of cinema. The end is emotionally wrenching & I would venture that few are able to leave it as I did long ago in Annapolis without a sense of having been deeply moved.
Often it is hard to find a romance which does not include actual romance -
i.e. - liplock, hugging scenes. The viewer is overflowed with emotion
because the film itself focuses on human emotion, and is a pure amusement
watch because of the many symbols. When Zampano tries to steal a silver
heart from the church and Gelsomina pleads with him not to, we can only
think of the cold silver heart, his sad action of trying to "steal" such
emotion as "love", Gelsomina's soft nature - this film overflows with such
subtleties, but such subtleties! so impactful in conveying emotion..
Gelsomina's faith to Zampano is heartwrenching - she is presented with opportunities to leave Zampano, such as leaving to the nunnery or joining the circus, but she declines all. This fidelity builds up, only to have.. well, let's just say that Fellini is especially skillful in drawing your sympathy and then channeling for it in a single scene.. he knows how to focus and concentrate your emotion, I felt sort of violated after watching the film, since I rarely cry for movies! Also, if the symbolism does not stir a reader to interest, the amazing cinematography will. The tightrope act atop the city buildings, the motorbike rides, the Christ ceremony-
This movie is unpredictable and is interesting to watch, since it keeps the mind afloat with the different scenes which are packed with symbols and metaphors, wonderful puzzles to decipher. Since Fellini does not present it straight-forwardly, and rather wraps meaning in several layers of symbols, uncovering the truth becomes fulfilling for the viewer.
The way Fellini develops his characters is unforgettable. We feel their demise, but urge to see and understand more. I feel only Fellini can accomplish such a remarkable quality. And in case you didn't get the gist of my rating (and my ranting).. 4 stars. Please rent this and enjoy, Fellini's incredible! :o)
A man of uncommon strength, who lives on the road and makes his living as
an entertainer performing feats of strength, but who masks the emptiness of
his life with a perpetual show of bravura, is the focal point of `La
Strada,' directed by Federico Fellini and written by Fellini and Tullio
Pinelli. It's the story of Zampano (Anthony Quinn), who travels from town
to town, eking out a meager living by passing the hat after each
performance, which consists mainly of wrapping a quarter-inch chain made of
iron around his chest, then breaking it by expanding his lungs. In his
endeavors he is assisted by Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), a simple-minded
young woman who is devoted to this selfish man endowed with little more
intelligence than she. The tragedy of Zampano is that while he seeks
fulfillment in meaningless carnal pursuits and the hollow acclaim of
strangers, the happiness that eludes him is at hand; but his own
self-deception prevents him from recognizing what a treasure he already has
One of Fellini's earliest films, there is a straightforward, almost
simplistic richness to his style, both visually and narratively, that is
devoid of the surreal atmosphere with which he invests his later projects.
Still, the mood he creates is mesmerizing, aided to a great extent by the
haunting theme and score by Nino Rota. It is a story that gradually draws
the viewer in through the sympathy evoked by the gentle innocence of
Gelsomina, whose purity of spirit is seemingly in such stark contrast to
that of Zampano. Watching her respond to his unthinking brutality of her
with unadulterated kindness, time after time, is heartrending; and in the
end, when Zampano ultimately secures our sympathies as well, it seems almost
contradictory, though contextually just.
As Zampano, Anthony Quinn gives what is arguably one of the best
performances of his career; with depth and nuance, he creates the epitome of
the brutal simpleton, a man whose lack of wit forces him to exist by the
most basic of instincts. And Quinn conveys it all so perfectly, both
physically and emotionally; it is an inspired, memorable performance. But
without question, the true heart of the film is provided by the wondrous
Giulietta Masina. What a superb, unforgettable performance; everything
about her is totally engaging, beginning with the supple roundness of her
face, which accentuates her expressive eyes and winning smile. Her
Gelsomina is so lithe, her presence so angelic, that at times it seems as if
she is about to float up off the screen. She conveys such compassion and
vulnerability, such warmth of being, that it becomes impossible not to lose
your heart to her. It is quite simply an irresistible, truly heartwarming
performance. Also, in an exceptionally effective supporting role, is
Richard Basehart, as Il `Matto,' the `Fool.' A tightrope walker by trade,
the Fool is the antithesis of Zampano, a lighthearted soul who befriends
Gelsomina and becomes her voice of hope and logic, while at the same time
manifesting a taunting, challenging and unwelcomed presence to Zampano.
Ironically, it is the Fool who becomes the catalyst for the tragedies that
ultimately befall Gelsomina, and finally Zampano.
The supporting cast includes Aldo Silvani (Il Signor Giraffa), Marcella
Rovere (The Widow) and Livia Venturini (The Sister). An earthy,
thought-provoking film, `La Strada' is one that will linger on sweetly in
your mind's eye; the images and impressions it creates may, with time,
dissolve-- but the essence of it will remain with you always. For once
Fellini has touched you, it is forever. I rate this one 10/10.
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.
I saw this film in 1954 and every Fellini film since. Basehart and Quinn under Fellini's skillful direction add a chemistry to Masina's portrayal of innocence that is incredible. I would argue this is Fellini's best film. Everything works. It is so full of little things, from the farm folk hired as extras to the rubber boots worn by Quinn striding into the ring to do his corny strongman act. Fellini nearly drove Masina crazy during the filming-- he wouldn't let her bath or wash her hair for weeks on end-- but, the end result speaks for itself. There are some excellent comments on this film elsewhere in this section. I suggest you read them. I can only say, this is one of the great films.
La Strada can sometimes come across as similar to the Hollywood films
made in the 1950s, but for the most part, is a unique and beautiful
story. It concerns a young woman, Gelsomina, being given to traveling
"artist" Zampano by her poor mother in exchange for money. Zampano
makes his money by traveling around Italy, putting on a strong-man show
for crowds. Gelsomina has dreams of becoming an artist as well, and
therefore was more than happy to go with Zampano, but Gelsomina quickly
realises that Zampano is nothing more than a drunkard and a brute, with
eating, sleeping and sex being the only things he cares for.
The character of Gelsomina, played by Giulietta Masina, is the highlight of the film. With a face like no other, it exudes a certain beauty but is also very odd, with a definite quirkiness to it "like an artichoke". Masina is excellent as expressing emotions with nothing more than a look, and it is because of this that the film stands strong. The story itself is simple, but with Gelsomina being such a romantic at heart, she is constantly searching for love and an understanding of a world she doesn't know, being such a sheltered loner when living with her mother and four younger sisters.
Zampano, the traveling strong-man, follows the basic of human instincts, irrespective of their bearing on others, namely Gelsomina. Anthony Quinn gives the character a great ignorance, Zampano being, for the most part, oblivious to the impact his actions have, only wanting to be able to earn money to eat and drink wine, and sleep with women. It is not until Zampano and Gelsomina (Gelsomina having become Zampano's sidekick in his traveling show) take on a position as part of a circus in town, and Gelsomina meets an acrobat clown, credited in the film as Il Matto The Fool. She falls for his happy and carefree nature, exampled when he teases Zampano whilst he is trying to do his show. Zampano soon despises the Fool, and becomes jealous of the friendship forming between Gelsomina and the clown. This is where Zampano begins to show real emotion, and although he doesn't deal with the situation in the most appropriate way, it is the beginning of his life experience that changes him forever.
The film is gorgeous, with some memorable characters, namely Gelsomina. It doesn't end on a happy note, but you are still left satisfied with the story told, especially the lesson taught to Zampano, although it was all too late for him, and it is not certain that he learned from the experience. Masina is an absolute delight to watch, holding you captive with her face alone, beaming with love. The film is not for those looking for Hollywood drama and action, but for anyone who knows how it feels to be confused and in need of understanding about life's ways.
This is one of the most influential films of all time, it is the classical example, where "less" is always "more". The story is deceivingly simple and it feels at the beginning almost like a piece from "commedia del arte", however the master touch of Fellini's heart and vision talk to us directly through the canvas of Gesolmina's face (Giulietta Massina was his wife in real life). You don't need big words or a crafty developed script. This is like music, speaks directly it does not need translation even most non-Italian speakers find themselves more and more immersed in the visual aspects of this drama, it seems in many aspects surreal (I'll develop this point later) and distant but at the same time there is an underlying tension brought up by the close ups and the music revealing all those emotions much more close to our hearts than we are at first openly willing to admit. This is cinema at its best ladies and gentlemen. No special effects, no grandiose vistas, no colors, no extra help. The intimate nature of these characters feelings talk and paint more pictures than anything else can convey. Regarding the intimate relationship of Fellini and his movies there are already many of his little "secrets or eccentricities" that he imposes in all his films, they all have relevant hidden messages, such as the "white mysterious horse" and the haunting "trumpet melody" are just some of them. Those interested in Fellini's oeuvre should have the pleasure to uncover them with more of his viewing of what this all means, in same cases there is a definite reason in others he leaves it to your own devices and interpretation. He constantly teases us with contradictory emotions, sadness and laughter, complicated and simple, logical and absurd, brutish and angelical. Finally this film is like a great banquet, it seems to drag at he beginning and makes you think that is going to be too long and then at the end it seems too abrupt and you want it to continue, but most importantly leaves with us a savor that will linger in our minds for a long time, those who are sensitive to Fellini's vision will carry this for ever and hunger for more, those indifferent will dismiss it as an extravagant little piece and may be curios for another one. Once thing is for certain, nobody will ever forget Gesolmina's face.
La Strada is the third Fellini movie that I have delighted myself
withthe other two being Otto e Mezzo and La Dolce Vitaand
coincidentally the least Felliniesque of the three, and I dare say, the
simplest to interpret. And precisely that's the reason I have chosen it
to begin of my eulogy on Fellini's lifelong masterful works. Fellini's
staunch critics had audaciously deemed him narcissistic and his
singular works self-indulgent and self-gratifying. Their myopic vision
made them overlook the fact that narcissism and solipsism are the very
virtues that give form to art and aesthetics. A true artist uses these
traits to isolate himself from the worldly pursuits so that he can
create a connection with the divine and attain a sense of
enlightenment. He then pours his heart out and offers it selflessly in
form of his art. Thus, the artist's apparent self-indulgence is
actually a means to share his hard earned and newly acquired knowledge,
gratis with the rest of the world. Fellini too like any true artist
gave his audience what he thought they deserved: a product of his
intellect and vision with the sole motive of titillating their senses.
La Strada is Fellini's improvisation on the epic theme of a beast and a beauty as depicted in the 1740 fairy tale 'Beauty and the Beast' and later on glorified by Victor Hugo's literary marvel 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame'. What makes Fellini's rendition different is that even though Zampano perfectly fits into the caricature of a beast, Gelsomina falls short of the literary definition of a beauty. However, what Gelsomina lacks in pulchritude is more than made up by her celestial charm and naive disposition. These conflicting traits give Gelsomina an irresistible persona that makes her inexplicably amicable and desirable. Zampano on the contrary does not have a single trait that is likable and offers a great contrast to Gelsomina's innocuous self.
Zampano is a traveling entertainer who earns a living by performing street acts that demand extreme physical strength. Gelsomina's poor old mother sells her to brutish Zampano for a sum of 10,000 lire as a replacement for her dead daughter Rosa. Zampano ill treats Gelsomina, and despite her compliance and willingness to learn, uses brute force to teach her. She naively acquiesces even to Zampano's sexual advances. Zampano teaches her to jest and dance as well as to play drum and trumpet. One day when she finds him drunk after a night of debauchery, she decides to leave him in order to explore other possibilities. En route, she meets Il Matoan equilibrist with a great sense of humor. Zampano manages to locate her and forcibly takes her back. Zampano joins the same circus group that Il Matto is a part of. Soon fate presents Gelsomina with an opportunity to choose between Zampano and Il Matto. La Strada goes beyond revealing Gelsomina's choice and its consequences. It accentuates that even the most bestial of the souls has a latent goodness that makes him capable of love and worthy of being loved. La Strada demonstrates that the human emotions defy reason and are driven by instinct.
Anthony Quinn arguably gives the best performance of his life as the stone cold Zampano. He effortlessly conjures up his brutish alter ego and makes him appear absolutely abominable to the viewer. As Zampano, Quinn manages to portray a caricature that has become the epitome of callous ruthlessness in cinema. Federico Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina perfectly fits into the sketch of Gelsomina. With the portrayal of Gelsomina, Masina proves her worth as an actress. Her inspired portrayal absolves Fellini from the suspicion that her casting was inspired by motives other than talent. As Gelsomina, she not only offers a striking contrast to Quinn's part, but also manages to create a special place in the movie. In fact, by the end it becomes quite obvious that La Strada belongs to her more than Quinn or, I dare say, Fellini. In the initial few minutes, Masina looks a bit over-aged for Gelsomina's part, but she soon enchants everyone with her peculiar charm and the rest becomes completely immaterial. The cinematography of the movie is highly picturesque and presents the viewer with scenes that get etched permanently in the memory. Nino Rota's mellifluous music gives the movie a lyrical touch.
Overall, La Strada is a moving experience for aficionados and masses alike. It is a great opportunity for the students and lovers of cinema to get acquainted with Fellini's oeuvre before venturing into his more personal works like Otto e Mezzo, La Dolce Vita, Amarcord and Satyricon. 9/10
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