ESSENTIAL ARTHOUSE - Part VI - FEDERICO FELLINI'S 'La Strada'
La Strada can sometimes come across as similar to the Hollywood films made in the 1950s, but for the most part, is a unique and beautiful story. It concerns a young woman, Gelsomina, being given to traveling "artist" Zampano by her poor mother in exchange for money. Zampano makes his money by traveling around Italy, putting on a strong-man show for crowds. Gelsomina has dreams of becoming an artist as well, and therefore was more than happy to go with Zampano, but Gelsomina quickly realises that Zampano is nothing more than a drunkard and a brute, with eating, sleeping and sex being the only things he cares for.
The character of Gelsomina, played by Giulietta Masina, is the highlight of the film. With a face like no other, it exudes a certain beauty but is also very odd, with a definite quirkiness to it …"like an artichoke". Masina is excellent as expressing emotions with nothing more than a look, and it is because of this that the film stands strong. The story itself is simple, but with Gelsomina being such a romantic at heart, she is constantly searching for love and an understanding of a world she doesn't know, being such a sheltered loner when living with her mother and four younger sisters.
Zampano, the traveling strong-man, follows the basic of human instincts, irrespective of their bearing on others, namely Gelsomina. Anthony Quinn gives the character a great ignorance, Zampano being, for the most part, oblivious to the impact his actions have, only wanting to be able to earn money to eat and drink wine, and sleep with women. It is not until Zampano and Gelsomina (Gelsomina having become Zampano's sidekick in his traveling show) take on a position as part of a circus in town, and Gelsomina meets an acrobat clown, credited in the film as Il Matto – The Fool. She falls for his happy and carefree nature, exampled when he teases Zampano whilst he is trying to do his show. Zampano soon despises the Fool, and becomes jealous of the friendship forming between Gelsomina and the clown. This is where Zampano begins to show real emotion, and although he doesn't deal with the situation in the most appropriate way, it is the beginning of his life experience that changes him forever.
The film is gorgeous, with some memorable characters, namely Gelsomina. It doesn't end on a happy note, but you are still left satisfied with the story told, especially the lesson taught to Zampano, although it was all too late for him, and it is not certain that he learned from the experience. Masina is an absolute delight to watch, holding you captive with her face alone, beaming with love. The film is not for those looking for Hollywood drama and action, but for anyone who knows how it feels to be confused and in need of understanding about life's ways.