Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano
Ponti-De Laurentis Cinematografia
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
#282 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina are a marriage made in heaven.
Zampano (Anthony Quinn) works as a traveling strongman. His assistant, Rosa, has died under unexplained circumstances. So he visits her impoverished family to deliver the news and get a replacement. This is Gelsomina (Masina) a simple, innocent girl with a charming gift for comedy. She proves to be a hit in the act, which otherwise consists solely of Zampano unimpressively breaking a chain with his chest muscles. Zampano is an inarticulate lout who beds Gelsomina when the urge strikes and otherwise treats her like property. She slowly gets used to her new circumstances but continues to long to go home.
About half-way through the story, the pair run into a circus that features a high-wire act by a performer known as The Fool (Richard Basehart). The Fool and Zampano have some unexplained longstanding grudge that causes the Fool to taunt Zampano at every opportunity, to which Zampano can only react with his fists. The Fool and Gelosomina become friendly. When she questions the meaning of her existence, he suggests that perhaps it is to be there for Zampano because, after all, who else would do this.
Gelosomina is inspired by this advice but then has the rug pulled out from under her by the continued rivalry between the two men in her life.
I love this film and all the performances in it. Masina has one of the great faces of any actress ever and is totally captivating. One could fault the story for making her character a sort of martyr. I prefer to see the tragedy as primarily Zampano’s. The story is offering both him and Gelosomina meaning for their lives. She takes the offer and he rejects it to his utter sorrow.
At any rate, I have no problem with the story. Fellini tells it with vivid and unforgettable images accentuated by the haunting Nino Rota score. On this viewing, however, I did questioned whether The Fool was more of a philosopher or a plain troublemaker in the scheme of things. What I appreciate about these classics is that I can open them up again and again and find something new to think about.
La Strada won the first official Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It was nominated for Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Original.