Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/4/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Federico Fellini with a script he co-wrote with Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, La Strada (The Road) centers around a marriage that isn't going well while the wife falls for a clown who reveals there's more to life. Exploring the dynamics of marriage and heartbreak, the film shows Fellini’s sense of realism while exploring the behaviors of its protagonists. Starring Anthony Quinn, Guiletta Masina, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcella Rovere, and Livia Venturini. La Strada is a heartbreaking, charming, delightful film from Fellini.
After the death of her daughter Rosa, a poor widow (Marcella Rovere) decides to sell her clownish, shy adult daughter Gelsomina (Guiletta Masina) to a brutish circus performer named Zampano (Anthony Quinn). The new couple go on a road trip in a wagon pulled by Zampano's motorcycle where he’s a performer who wears a steel chain on his chest where the trick was to break it with his strength. Gelsomina reluctantly becomes his assistant while performing clown tricks for him. Though she likes the job, she feels unappreciated by Zampano who often abuses her physically and emotionally. After a performance, Zampano runs off with a red-headed woman leaving Gelsomina behind to wait as she later finds him passed out.
Walking out to a town where she encounters a Catholic ceremony, she catches the eye of a high-wire performer who is also a clown of sorts known as The Fool (Richard Basehart). After the performance and everything, she is left alone in the town until being caught by Zampano. The trip continues where they finally meet a circus organizer named Mr. Giraffe (Aldo Silvani) who takes them on. Unfortunately, the Fool is part of the circus family who constantly teases and humiliates Zampano. After a scuffle that led to Zampano's arrest and the expulsion of him and the Fool. Gelsomina isn't sure where to go and what to do where the Fool tells her his perspective on life on what she should do.
Waiting for Zampano to return, they continue on their road trip where they pick up a nun (Livia Venturini) to stay a convent. Gelsomina's talents are praised by the nun but Zampano doesn't feel impress nor excited. The abuse continues as Gelsomina is again, offered to leave Zampano by the nuns. On the road again, they have an encounter that would turn tragic as the fragile relationship between Zampano and Gelsomina reaches a breaking point.
The film is about character and how they grow through this experience in a road trip. While the film echoes some of the neorealism films in post-WWII Italy, Fellini brings a more comical touch to his work. Even through his knowledge of the world of circus performers. Through the various locations in Italy, the film does act like a road movie but it's more than that. It's really about a woman who is succumb to act like a servant only to find a new role in the life of this brutish, abusive man who doesn't know much about love or compassion. The character of Zampano is seen as this abusive, macho, unintelligent man. Yet, he's someone who has to break chains for a living while never given a life to think about things or other people. When he and Gelsomina encounter tragedy, a change of his character occurs yet he doesn't know how to deal with this.
Gelsomina is another character who goes through her own development as this shy, clownish woman who is trying to find her own usefulness. Yet, despite the abuse she endures and the time she walks out, she has this strange loyalty to Zampano. Even as people tell her to leave, she doesn’t because she hopes to find something good beneath his macho exterior. Yet, when she like Zampano encounters tragedy. She's unsure how to cope with everything and how to react to what Zampano is feeling. It is a film about character development. Even through Fellini's surreal, circus-like direction, it has images and compositions that remain unforgettable right to the final frame. Fellini can capture a moment of humor and extravagance while also showing heartbreak through the close-ups and zoom lenses through his camera. Overall, it's one of his best films and some of his finest set-ups in his direction.
Cinematographers Otello Martelli and Carlo Carlini bring a wonderfully, fascinating look in their black-and-white photography. The rich locations captured through the camera is just filled with beauty while some of the night exterior scenes are wonderfully lit to convey the emotions and moments of the main characters. Editor Leo Cattozzo brings a stylistic yet elliptical approach to the film's pacing to convey the movement and feel of the road while using fade-outs and dissolve to shift scenes of where the characters are. Production designer Mario Ravasco and art directors Enrico Cervelli and Brunello Rondi create a wonderful look to the film's circus settings as well as the motorcycle-wagon that Zampano rides on. Costume designer Margherita Marinari does wonder with the costumes from the poor, drab look that Zampano has including the costumes that are poor to a suit he wears that almost makes him look like a movie star. Sound recordist R. Boggio and sound mixer Aldo Capini create a wonderful atmosphere to capture the location and scenes the characters are in.
Then there's the amazing, lyrical score of the late Nino Rota. The score is melancholic and dreamy while a trumpet that Gelsomina plays is wonderfully memorable with its melody and performance. Rota, who is one of Fellini's key collaborators, is a wonder in this film as the music that often ranges from circus-like comedy to elegant tragedy that plays to the film’s emotions. It's one of the film's great highlights.
While the film has a small cast, it's filled with some memorable performances such as Aldo Silvani and Livia Venturini as two people who reach out to Gelsomina in the abuse she's suffering. Marcella Rovere is also good as Gelsomina's widowed mother who is begging Zampano to take Gelsomina as his new bride. Richard Basehart gives a charming yet comical performance as the Fool, a sympathetic figure who tries to help out Gelsomina.
The film’s best performance is easily Guiletta Masina, the real-life wife of Fellini, who brings a very touching yet intoxicating performance as an abused woman. Masina's physical performance is just as impressive with the faces she makes that is sad yet clownish while bringing a lot of spirit to the film. Anthony Quinn is also great as the brutish, abusive Zampano with his physical presence and the restraint he gives in letting out his emotions. When his character faces tragedy, Quinn shows the complexity of Zampano in how he's trying to react to things where Quinn proves that he’s more than just a character actor. Someone who is trying to feel remorse and what happens in the end is just Quinn at his finest.
While the film doesn't have some of the ambitions of works like La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2, La Strada is still a heartbreaking yet charming film by Federico Fellini. Fans will no doubt consider this one of his essential films while newcomers will use this as a nice place to start. In the end, La Strada is a must-see film from the late, great Federico Fellini.
Federico Fellini Films: (Variety Lights) - The White Sheik - I, Vitelloni - (L'amore in Citta-Un'agenzia martimoniale) - Il bidone - Nights of Cabiria - La Dolce Vita - (Boccaccio '70-Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio) - 8 1/2 - Juliet of the Spirits - Histoires Extraordinaire-Toby Dammit - (Fellini: A Director's Notebook) - Fellini Satyricon - (I Clowns) - Roma - Amarcord - Casanova - (Orchestral Rehearsal) - (City of Women) - And the Ship Sails On - Ginger and Fred - (Intervista) - (The Vocie of the Moon)
© thevoid99 2012