Reissued in a beautifully restored version, Federico Fellini’s 1954 masterpiece established the director’s critical reputation in Europe and America by winning prizes at both the Venice Film Festival and the Academy Awards. La Strada is a spiritual odyssey that assumes the episodic structure of a road movie. Fellini juxtaposes innocence and brutality in a powerful story of a naive young waif, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), who is sold into virtual slavery to play the clown to itinerant strongman Zampan’ (Anthony Quinn), a brute who exploits his assistant’s desire for affection and love. As the couple travel through a series of grey, desolate provincial towns, Fellini blends realism (the drab locations, the harshness of the couple’s life on the road) and a poetic, lyrical expressionism (symbols and metaphor hint at the possibilities of a better existence).
The results make for a genuinely moving account of loneliness which will always be associated with the sublimely Chaplinesque Masina, who makes Gelsomina an unforgettable example of struggling humanity. When Zampan’ kills a gentle tightrope-walker (Richard Basehart) who befriended Gelsomina, she drifts away from her partner. The film continues to track Zampan’, who is devastated to learn of Gelsomina’s sad fate and achieves some kind of redemption in his final recognition of his loss of and need for her. Avoiding cheap sentimentality, La Strada is one of Fellini’s most successful explorations of his favourite themeothe search for meaning and purpose in life.Italy, 1954. English subtitles. Black and white. 104 mins.