Fellini’s La Strada (1954) film review

I would be the first one to admit that I’m a huge fan of Federico Fellini (January 20th, 1920-October 31st, 1993)4

and even though the following review for one of his masterful filmworks was indeed a firsthand account for me at his craftsmanship, I’ve since appreciated as well as respected everything that Fellini has selflessly stood for, which is the main reason why it was such a cinematic treat for me as I was deeply honored with watching his stellar 1954 classic La Strada (aka The Road) for the very first time about a few or more years ago. I really wanted to view a film of Fellini’s ever since his 1963 film 8 ½ premiered on Turner Classic Movies as well as viewing the Criterion Collection version of La Dolce Vita starring Marcello Mastroianni; both films, to me, are a profound and influential example of Italian neorealism masterfully yet meticulously crafted by the renowned Italian director Fellini. He brings a cinematic quality that’s awe-inspiring and filled with heart, soul and love; yet through La Strada, I view a bittersweet memory of the dramatic but deeply harrowing scenes that’s made me appreciate classic foreign films even more! The stellar and immensely talented cast includes American actors Anthony Quinn as Zampano, Richard Basehart as II Matto (The Fool) and Italian film actor Aldo Silvani as II Signor Giraffa (Mr. Giraffe- the circus owner)5

One individual that captivated and amazed me as a classic movie fan was the prolific Italian stage and film actress Guilietta Masina (February 22nd, 1921-March 23rd, 1994) who portrays Gelsomina (Mrs. Federico Fellini)2

Masina displays a sheer brilliance and cinematic genius in La Strada; she gives the character so much life and yet we understand her troubling situation. There’s a want and need to be loved in her eyes, but it seems like it can never be fulfilled by those closest to her. She tries to find comfort and warmth through Zampano, played with brutish yet empathetic understanding by Quinn. He tries to fully understand everything about her; despite her lack of cooking skills and acting talents, she is still a human being with real emotions, imperfections and flaws. The inevitability of loneliness and the instant gratification of monetary gains is only the beginning of the complexities behind Zampano’s façade; deep down, he characterizes a man who’s struggled with so much and whose very existence lies solely on the circus life. For years, he’s endured the same routine of making the chain break just with the expansion of his chest6

So much of his life passes by and towards a certain point in the film, you can see the pain and conflicted emotion in his face as the harsh realities come to light. Gelsomina knows that she wants the best for herself, but she develops a complex and conflicted relationship with Zampano and reluctantly gives in to his brutish strength/force. But then she sees a golden opportunity to be free again in the form of the Fool- Richard Basehart’s poignant performance helps us to understand the absolute impassioned meaning behind empathy1

He feels for Gelsomina, but displays a type of bitterness that is quick-witted, funny and yet very sentimental. He develops a soft spot in his heart for Gelsomina, but often at times gives an acerbic point of view in his thoughts. But there is a much deeper compassion and humility to Basehart’s character that may have an acquired taste for some and that’s what brings the real, genuine and absolute candidness in the Fool7

Zampano knows that Gelsomina can provide a fruitful and highly profitable benefit into his life, but he displays a livid and detrimental arrogance to The Fool- both on a professional and personal level. He knows that his personal life can have monumental consequences with the appearance of the Fool and at times, he shows a chilling demeanor that’s filled with a loathing and seething anger for the Fool. Zampano’s thirst for revenge is quenched with a punch to The Fool’s nose- the end result proved to become the fatal flaw for both the Fool and Gelsomina. For The Fool, it was fatal because of the impact that it made and not just from the physical aspect of the situation. Beforehand, he has a deep yet subtly morbid discussion with Gelsomina the night before about his very existence; the aspiring wisdom and deeply influential impact from the Fool gained a renewed sense of understanding and encouragement for Gelsomina and so, she becomes inspired to use this newfound strength to fight her cause and overcome Zampano’s tyranny and harshness. But the zest and passion that she felt inside turned bitter and cold when she realizes the absolute truth; Zampano, unbeknown to him, causes the death of II Matto. She chants that The Fool is dead and Zampano fully realizes the grief and complete devastation caused by his anger and deep frustrations for the Fool. Her mind becomes fixated on the Fool’s passing and her façade appears to obtain a sad, somber, and lifeless portrait of emotional pain and sorrow. Witnessing the catatonic expression and despondence descending inside of Gelsomina, Zampano tries with diligent valiant efforts to revive and awaken her zest for life and happiness but it only concluded to a futile frustrated defeat for him and so, he reluctantly abandons Gelsomina and tries to strive and succeed on his own. Embarking on a virulent turn of events that consisted of drinking heavily and making ominous threats to other patrons at the Bar, Zampano breaks down in a deeply distressing state as the audience witness the heart-breaking emotional bond that seemed to crumble in the sands below- we witness for the 1st time the traumatic heart-rending experience that Zampano felt through the loss of Gelsomina9

A humbled sympathetic understanding flowed in my heart for him and I yearned to find the reason why so many individuals realize until it’s too late the consequential but malignant actions made by their stubbornness, lack of reasoning, and apathetic attitudes for others. But then I realized the depth and cinematic essence of Fellini; through real and uncanny candor from the characters, this classic film gives a deeper respect and unconditional love of Fellini’s remarkable display of a profoundly awe-inspiring, emblematic and deeply appreciated veneration for the classic film world. What he gives to classic foreign films is felt almost instantaneously but with a zealous passion through so many classic film lovers and he instills an ardent appreciation and reverence that captures the wondrous imagination, love and inspirational cinematic aspect for classic films. A critically acclaimed masterpiece in the world of classic films, La Strada has emanated as a truly resplendent example of the countless cinematic merits that Fellini’s selflessly contributed in the classic film world. Produced by Dino De Laurentis & Carlo Ponti, it premiered on September 6th, 1954 (Venice) and on September 22nd, 1954 (Italy). The theme music was a sublime fascination of cinematic harmony and melodious bliss that could only come from the innovative minds of director Fellini & Italian film composer Nino Rota. I’m very grateful and appreciative of viewing La Strada and I wanted to give my own candid thoughts on the film that’s becoming the starting point of viewing the many films of Federico Fellini; I always felt that the immensely underrated yet brilliantly talented and gifted actor Basehart never garnered the cinematic recognition that he so rightly deserved3

which is a shame really because honestly I thought he was superb in this indelible Fellini classic (another top notched commanding performance of his well worth viewing is the cinematic 1948 film noir gem He Walked By Night, more on my review for the latter film will be at another time). One of my favorite genres that I’m such a huge fan of are the foreign/international films, yet I never knew the raw passionate talent and sheer euphoric bliss from a really great foreign classic because in my honest opinion, you genuinely can learn so much from its performances along; with that being said, Fellini has called La Strada “a complete catalogue of my entire mythological world, a dangerous representation of my identity that was undertaken with no precedent whatsoever.” However, in my mind I felt that this was indeed one of his favorite films that he’s directed; in the end though, the prestigious classic film not only became one of the most influential films ever made by the American Film Institute, but it also won the inaugural 1956 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Federico Fellini’s La Strada gave me that rare opportunity to witness first-hand the mastermind behind the sheer cinematic genius that is, in one word, Fellini!11


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