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 Potpourri of Vestiges Review: Fellini the Maestro! Zampano the Brute!
La Strada is the third Fellini movie that I have delighted myself with—the other two being Otto e Mezzo and La Dolce Vita—and 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 Mato—an 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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