Wow. After the last two Fellini films that I saw I really did not expect this. Both “8½” and “La Dolce Vita” where soulful and intelligent conceptual and stylistic marvels, but “La Strada” connected with me on another level. It provided an emotional connection that I did not manage to fully establish with the other two, which does not mean that “8½” and “La Dolce Vita” are inferior films. They are not inferior simply because they are not designed to be what “La Strada” is. A film that does not call attention to its style, a film that does not struggle to engage you intellectually but instead focuses all its assets to hook you emotionally. And it does this effortlessly.
In order to achieve this Fellini’s approach for “La Strada” is obviously very different than in the other two films. Here he is practically invisible. The narrative is simple, linear and does not employ any flashbacks or dream sequences of any kind. And this is very much an Italian neo-realist film, or at least it carries much of that style’s influence. The camera and production design and lighting are all used to accentuate realism. The film even deals primarily with the lower class in post war Italy. The only real divergence from the style seem to be the actors.
The Italian neo-realist films where usually cast with amateur actors, the real people, however “La Strada” stars the great Anthony Quinn, who is admittedly very convincing even though his performance is dubbed in to Italian (a norm for Italian cinema of that time as they did not care much for on location dialogue and did it all in post). He plays a traveling artist, a strong-man named Zampano, who purchases himself a wife named Gelsomina, played by Giulietta Masina.
Masina gives a powerful comedic and dramatic performance and is the emotional center of this film. But, as it usually is with standout roles like this, her character is deliberately designed to be pure and sympathetic and made to be such not only through the acting but also through the script and direction. The comedic layer only elevates this. So on retrospect I cannot help but admire Anthony Quinn’s performance just a smidgeon more because he is what makes Zampano human and sympathetic, despite the simple-minded nature of his character and quite a few despicable deeds that he performs. It would have been very easy for this character to become just a simple villain of the story, but he is not a villain at all, and I think Quinn (and, of course, the direction he received) is totally what makes the character work so marvelously. Actually this might be my favorite performance by Anthony Quinn, but I’d have to see this film a few more times before restating that with certainty.
“La Strada” is a film that I would recommend to anyone as it is a very emotional film that has a ton of entertainment value as well. It is Fellini’s most accessible film of the three that I’ve seen, although it is not as stylistically exuberant. But it does preserve that graceful and spellbinding quality that seems to follow Fellini’s work, and actually I’d even argue that the cinematic simplicity of “La Strada” amplifies it.
Anthony Quinn - Zampano
Giulietta Masina - Gelsomina
Richard Baseheart - il Matto / the Fool
Original language: Italian