For Reel

La Strada (1954)
June 19, 2012, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Federico Fellini

Arguably the first of Federico Fellini’s true masterpieces, La Strada was at the time his most autobiographical effort and certainly the film that would lay the foundation for the rest of his career to follow. Anthony Quinn stars Zampanò, a traveling strong man who buys an impoverished young woman – Giulietta Masina’s Gelsomina – from her mother for his traveling circus act. Zampanò seems to be little more than a cruel brute at first. He whips Gelsomina violently until she perfects her performance, and given that the naive girl is all too eager to please, she’s loyal to a fault and hardly puts up any protest. In the end, Zampanò abandons the broken Gelsomina not out of cruelty but out of mercy – he finally recognizes that he’s no good for her, and has clearly led her down a terrible spiral (unbeknownst to him, her spirits had already been irreversibly crushed). Even if the terrific Masina is the iconic figure of the film – if only because of the relationship that the actress has with Fellini and with his oeuvre as a whole – it is Quinn who gives the most nuanced, fascinating performance of the picture, with his humanity slowly being revealed piece by piece. Despite the devastating conclusion, it’s not a sadistic film – Zampanò’s misery is not something the audience finds just or deserved. The emotion, instead, is perfectly recognizable. Sometimes we don’t recognize how cruel we’ve been until it’s too late.