Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#46: La Strada


La Strada
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano
Released July 16, 1956 (USA), September 22, 1954 (Italy)

"La Strada" is Italian for "the road," but it also basically means "the way."

Much, much darker and sadder than I had anticipated, Federico Fellini's classic La Strada is a very simple story that, depending on your level of humanity, resonates in you long after viewing.

That simple story involves a cruel travelling strongman named Zampano (played by a brooding Anthony Quinn) who visits a poor family and pays 10,000 lira to make their oldest daughter Gelsomina (a strange bird played with Chaplin-esque physicality by Fellini's actual wife, Giulietta Masina) his wife and assistant.

Gelsomina, constantly beaten and shamed at the hands of Zampano, struggles to remain upbeat, finding joy in the smaller things like travelling, meeting new people and performing. Zampano's constant jealousy and domineering nature awaits her at ever turn, squashing her self-esteem. She is determined to keep her spirit intact until Zampano has a series of clashes with another travelling performer, a goofy (and honestly, annoying) clown played by Richard Baseheart.

In the scenes that follow, Quinn learns how the consequences of his ugly behavior make the difference between "the road" and "the way." Zampano may not learn how to be a better person, but he certainly learns that he is a bad person.

Like I said, it's not exactly the most uplifting experience (unless watching someone berate and slap the shit out of Charlie Chaplin in a non-amusing way puts a smile on your face), but the movie is very well made with some great photography and wonderful music by Nino Rota (you may recognize the name behind the music from The Godfather).

La Strada on disc is a fantastic example of the kind of commendable work that Criterion pulls off in their DVD releases. The picture quality, especially the purity of the black and white images, was so incredible that even scenes shot in drab and mundane locations popped off the screen with such contrast that they felt like you could run your fingers through the sands or feel the shade beneath a lone tree. It's no coincidence that this 365 movie excursion will see me trying to view as many of their re-releases as possible in the coming months.

For more on La Strada:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Buy the DVD from the official Criterion site
- An interesting profile of Fellini

A brief clip from La Strada which somehow encapsulates the vibe of this film in under a minute:

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