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
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 in Gelsomina. 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.
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