La Strada (1954) – Federico Fellini

Anthony Quinn and Giulletta Masina star in this Fellini classic that is a recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Thelma & Louise.

A road movie, the film follows Masina as a young, innocent and naive woman, Gelsomina, who can’t think for herself, while Quinn is the brutal, self-involved showman, Zampano, who thinks only of himself.

Gelsomina is sold into Zampano’s service for $10,000 lire, and the one trick travelling showman uses her in his show, where she quickly learns the difference between the illusion of performance and the real world.

As the pair travel the country side, Gelsomina remains at Zampano’s side despite his treatment of her, and the opportunity to leave on a number of occasions. She calls him an animal, but it as if, together, they make actually make one functioning human being.

The road is lonely, cruel, and an analogy for life, it’s impact felt by all, and only when we come to its end do we realise it’s effect on us.

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Gelsomina’s innocence, projected by her big luminous eyes, and pixie hair cut doesn’t know anything more than the life she is sold into, but tries to make the lives of those she comes across better. She is joyous, eager to learn, and while not puzzled by the world around her, she is troubled by the way she is treated by it and Zampano.

Quinn brings the cold fire of Zampano to life with ease, and plays him like a threatened animal; unsure of what he is going to do or say next. It’s a recognisable performance, bringing to life an abuser who has no real social skills, and a singular talent that has allowed him to survive.

La Strada is a beautiful, thoughtful film, as it centres around Masina’s performance. The film was a rousing success, proving Fellini correct in casting his wife in the lead role, and it was the first film to be awarded with the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

The characters’ fates shouldn’t be surprising but as the film proceeds you find yourself growing increasingly attached to Gelsomina, and increasingly upset with Zampono’s treatment of her and his blind self-interest. So, of course, when the film comes to it’s conclusion, it’s a heart-rending revelation, inspiring the viewer to think and wonder about their own life, how they affect the others in it, and what our own journey along the road will be.

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