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Favorite directors: Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog, Masaki Kobayashi, David Cronenberg and Franco Zeffirelli.
Favorite actors: Brad Dourif, Dirk Bogarde, John Hurt, Toshiro Mifune, Gary Oldman
Favorite actresses: Irene Papas, Vanessa Redgrave, Michelle Yeoh, Cate Blanchett, Kyoko Kishida
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La strada (1954)
Who is the true Fool?
I am perpetually amazed with the joy and sorrow this movie arouses, in equal proportion. Anyone can find their reflection in this beautiful story, whether in Gelsomina's innocence or Zampano's cruelty, or both fighting for precedence. These two characters' interactions, the movie's focus, can be seen and felt as the humanized enactment of the meeting between ANY opposite forces...benevolence/cruelty, innocence/debauchery, consciousness/ego, pure giving heart/pure calculating mind, or any relative particular drawn from the audience.
Giulietta Masina's Gelsomina is, of every movie I've ever seen in my 40+ years of living, the film character I've found to be the most beloved, the one whose memory I cherish the most, as if someone I've loved and always regretted never having been able to help. She begins her adventure into the big bad world at large with what might have been a burgeoning lust for life, the great experience we're all here for, and our hearts break with hers as Anthony Quinn's Zampano casually crushes every aspect of that possibility. The acting is to be applauded equally for the movie's side characters and extras as well as the three leads. Richard Basehart's Fool is utterly believable, and our hearts reach to him, partly because Gelsomina's does and partly for our own reasons (mocking Zampano as casually and naturally as Zampano does Gelsomina). He reacts to Cruelty personified in ways that Innocence personified feels incapable or afraid of expressing...most of the time. There are moments, however, when she is pushed to explosive reaction, but she lapses into repression of each of those out of a misguided sense of necessity and obligation.
Anyone familiar with Tarot symbolism will immediately recognize the inherent qualities of the first card, The Fool (Il Matto), in two of the three main characters. The Fool became the Joker and wild card of modern playing cards, and the concept is rooted in ancient Trickster Gods, whose nature and intention can never quite be understood or pinpointed with empirical statements. The idea in Tarot is that The Fool begins his or her journey exactly as they appear...foolish. At the end of the journey, when a story circles upon itself through resolution, the Fool becomes a Wise Fool, one who has learned to reconcile and embody opposing forces and characteristics, yet still appears "just a fool" to all else. So...when we return to where we started, all the acquired changes and experience may only be known to ourselves out of necessity, while appearing just as we always did to others superficially. In this case, we have the rare opportunity to see the Foolish (original, innocent) Fool meeting the Wise Fool as two separate characters. Each is what the other could be, and/or perhaps once was.
Nine stars of ten for this, perhaps the greatest Italian film ever made. The subtraction of one star is for my only problem with the movie, a minor editing detail. I felt that the dissolving transitions between scenes were too abrupt, particularly during the movie's most powerful and effective moments which are brief and without dialogue. If those had lingered and each taken at least a few more seconds to bring us to the next moment, this would be an absolutely flawless film. That will be heavily disagreed with, which is fine considering this is an admittedly personal opinion. As it is, you can hardly do better in finding a cinematic experience that truly reaches in for the heart and never intends to release it. Federico Fellini, I love you for this gift to the world.