Celebrated for both Federico Fellini’s stylish direction and Guilietta Masina’s wonderful performance, La Strada is a powerful drama that resonates as much today as it ever did.
Hailed as a classic and directed by the chief proponent of Italian neo-realism Federico Fellini, La Strada maps a simple yet heart breaking love story across an hour and forty minutes of screen time. Realised in 1954 and featuring a dubbed Anthony Quinn, the film is defined by real world locations, natural lighting and non-professional actors. Aside from Quinn, Giulietta Masina and Richard Basehart, almost everyone else within the fabric of this film are everyday folk.
Charting the sale of Gelsomina into indentured servitude for ten thousand lira, this bittersweet love story with domestic violence, enforced carnal knowledge and moments of murder is never watered down. Quinn gives us a performance of barely restrained brutality, forever the preening rooster outside his hen house never thinking of others. Perpetual womaniser, manipulator of feelings and chief brigand in this morality play, Quinn gives a towering performance.
Massina’s Gelsomina balances his testosterone fuelled interpretation with femininity, innocence and a childlike quality reminiscent of Chaplin at his best. Her reactions are all in the eyes at once coquettish, comedic yet playful, believing herself capable of wearing down Zampano’s course exterior to reveal the gentleman she knows exists beneath. What Fellini does through music, moments of extreme violence and emotional honesty is show the futility of such actions. At every turn whether being offered shelter through the circus or within a house of God, Gelsomina is ever optimistic that Zampano will come round to her way of thinking.
Richard Basehart personifies the free spirited performer she wants to be and their connection is instantaneous if forever doomed to dwindle. Playful, childlike and unbiased his fool represents everything Zampano fights against, tries to conceal and despises because he knows that form of expression is beyond him. From that point on there can only be one outcome as anger in one seeks to suffocate free will in the other. Fellini never shies away from the idea of consequences either physical or mental within La Strada and Zampano’s descent into misery is no exception.
Bold, inventive and unrelenting even now, La Strada in 1954 must have been a slap to the face of conventional thinking with its depiction of taboo subjects. Mental illness, domestic violence and suppression of creativity freedoms are all blatantly addressed here, while that ending still packs a punch over sixty years later. With the skill Fellini applies to location shots as well as the bravery exhibited through the themes he addresses, La Strada still stands up. Naturalistic performances, huge open air processions and constantly shifting seasons shown through montage, are crisp, clean and ripe for re-examination. A lesson for the film school anoraks and reminder that this film remains essential viewing.
Top 10 Films reviewed La Strada on Blu-ray courtesy of Studiocanal. The film was released on Blu-ray on June 19, 2017. This presentation features a new interview with filmmaker Julian Jarrold; a new interview with Peter Matthews, Senior Lecturer, Film & Television at London College of Communication; a 1995 Guardian interview recorded with Anthony Quinn; a 1955 Cannes interview with Giulietta Masina; and a revealing audio commentary by Chris Weigard for selected scenes.