Wednesday, April 24, 2013


(July 1956, U.S.)

If I was fortunate enough not to alienate too many of my readers during my last blog of the neo-realistic world of Federico Fellini with LA DOLCE VITA, then we continue now with another of his masterpieces, LA STRADA ("The Road"). The film portrays the journey of its two main characters: the brutish strongman Zampanò (played by Anthony Quinn) and thenaïve young woman Gelsomina (played by real-life wife of Fellini Giulietta Masina) whom he buys from her mother and takes with him to see the world and perform his traveling one-man circus-type show and their ultimate destructive encounters with a rival Il Matto, or "The Fool" (played by Richard Baseheart).

As the film begins, one must only presume the practical cause with which why Gelsomina would ever go away with Zampanò which is to feed her mother and sisters with the 10,000 lire he gives them. From the moment they set off together, it's clearly a relationship of harsh cruelty. Gelsomina, though clearly a grown woman, has the heart and mind of a child. By that account, her innocence is quite pure and touching to those with sensitive hearts. When she's performing her act with Zampanò, she experiences her theatrical surrounding like that of a gitty child at play. Despite the daily cruelty of her "master" that she must live with, she loves the escapism of performing her acts and playing her music. Like a child also, she experiences joy for the smallest reasons and respectively experiences pain and sadness over the smallest reasons, too. Cliche dictates that she inevitably feels genuine love for Zampanò, but it's hard to imagine why. This is a man who has literally purchased her like a slave, treats her like a dog and runs around with other women at every chance he gets. He's an angry man; angry at Gelsomina, angry at the world around him and seemingly incapable of love. Again I ask, what exactly is there to love about this man??

Gelsomina's difficulties with her forced partnership are the subject of frequent soul searching. Upon Il Matto's release from prison for a physical altercation with Zampanò, he proposes that there are alternatives to her cruel servitude with him and imparts his philosophy that everything and everyone has a purpose, even a seemingly worthless pebble, even her and her existence. A nun suggests that Gelsomina's purpose in life is comparable to her own. However, when Gelsomina offers the possibility of marriage (WHAT???), Zampanò brushes her off with indefference. The separate paths of Il Matto and Zampanò cross for the last time on an empty stretch of road, when Zampanò comes upon Il Matto fixing a flat tire. As Gelsomina watches in horror, Zampanò kills Il Matto, hides the body and pushes the car off the road. The killing finally breaks Gelsomina's spirit, leaving her flat and lifeless. Years later we (and Zampanò) learn that Gelsomina died of a fever and very likely a broken heart and spirit. When Zampanò gets drunk and wanders to the beach, he breaks down and cries uncontrollably and the viewer can only presume that this is the ultimate redemption of a cruel individual who has spent his entire life on the wrong side of human goodness. Is it really, though? This is what many filmmakers and film scholars believe, but I would raise the question that any supposed redemption under the heavy influence of alcohol is not a true redemption at all. I myself am sure I've occasionally felt many deep emotional thoughts and feelings after a few drinks, but did I still feel that way in the morning? Forgive me...for I can very liekly be accused right now of reducing a cinematic climax of deep, personal and spiritual meaing into nothing more than a passing emotional crisis...but, this particular case, I think I'm simply calling it as I think I see it.

Like many of Fellini films of this sort, the black and white photography of the post-war Italy that the director came to love during his life in LA STRADA is purely stunning to watch. For the film's story, this is "the road" and we, like the innocent Gelsomina, are invited to see the world through the eyes of two travelers. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes's it's cruel and sometimes it's fatal (such is the road of life, I suppose). This is also a film that one may be tempted to watch the English-dubbed version of the DVD (something I NEVER usually do!) because as it happens to be, two of the three central characters are American. Therefore watching the English-dubbed version allows you two hear Quinn's and Baseheart's voices as they're meant to be. When you watch the film in Italian with English subtitled (as ALL foreign films should traditionally be watched!), you experience only Giulietta Masina's native tongue, as well as other Italians. So, I suppose the viewer is left to make whatever intelligent choice they must to enjoy the film as it's meant to be. For myself, I believe I've made my choice clear.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Gelsomina (staring out at the ocean): "Which way is my home?"

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