La Strada (1954)
Fellini's breakout movie, "La Strada" (meaning 'the road') is a meandering and dark work with Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina at the center. The movie opens quite plainly as does "Nights of Cabiria". Gelsomina (Masina) is out walking, collecting sticks in desolate poverty when her brothers and sisters run up and tell her that her sister, who had run off to the circus, has died. Taking the news of her dead daughter hard doesn't stop Gelsomina's mother from quickly raffling off her other offspring. She is paid for the use of her daughter for Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a strongman.
Zampanò has one act that he can do. He will wrap a chain around his chest and then break it with his pectorals—that is to say, his chest. We see the act numerous times during the movie and begin to notice small changes each time that reflect the moods of the characters.
Masina is in typically lovable form here. She rolls her eyes, pouts, cries, feels grief and love—she is a treasure of film. Of Fellini's classic, almost half of them involved his wife; but almost always there was a commentary of infidelity.
Zampanò is a big guy, as such he is also a drunkard and he abuses Gelsomina with no hesitancy. Our heroine is surprisingly mute for most of the movie. She is beaten in submission and quiet by her master. But there is an odd attraction that she feels for Zampanò and it could be just because she has resigned herself to their doomed partnership.
She does try to get out from under his reign on more than one occasion but is thwarted every time. We all feel for Gelsomina, but the movie is more about Zampanò than you would assume.
A decidedly obvious moral is present in "La Strada" which is something that Fellini would never quite do the same way again. His movie make you think, but with "La Strada", though it is intelligent, we are to believe that everything happens for a reason.
We all have purpose and that's a cheerful thought. Of course, Fellini takes it to its conclusion which may not be as cheerful as you may think.
As the days continue while Gelsomina is away from home, she and Zampanò run across numerous odd parties. There is a wedding celebration that they are entertaining at and Gelsomina gets whisked away by the children to look upon a sick child. She gets angry every time that Zampanò goes out with a girl. One particular time he gets so drunk that he forgets to came back and pick his partner up. She finds him the next day, next to his old motorcycle, passed out on the road, hung over.
But she is not one who criticizes, though it is nice to see her leave him when she's had enough.
"La Strada" is impossible to predict because it's not a movie about the plot, rather how the characters have progressed by the end of the story. Fellini is a masterful storyteller and with the backdrop of the circus, he present a very colorful and sordid tale.
"La Strada" is not a fun movie, nor should it be. Yet Fellini's eye captures the essentials, the nuances, and the best performances.
"La Strada" is a fine movie.
Posted by Micah Jones