Sunday, February 3, 2008

La Strada

"La Srada" (Frederico Fellini, 1954) Before his imagination took surrealistic flight, Fellini was still grounded in the Italian neo-realist school, and his "La Strada" takes place in the still existent ruins from the second World War--the villages and hovels where roving bands of merchants and entertainers try to eke out a living on the road. Strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn), who breaks chains for a living returns to the family where his first assistant (now deceased) was acquired. Next in line is dim, but sweet Gelsomina (played by Mrs. Fellini, Giulietta Masina), and she hops on board Zampano's makeshift motorcycle/carnival tent/camper-trailer ("It's American!") and learns the tricks of the trade, which she takes to quickly. Eventually, they hook up with a larger circus, where they meet The Fool (Richard Basehart), who is sweet to her, but pushes all of Zampano's buttons, making the frustrated performer ever more enraged. Quinn is terrific, a bull with steam constantly coming out of his nose, Basehart shows his lighter irresponsible side rather than the stalwart authority figure he became used to playing, and Masina's performance is one of such force of personality that you can only call it "Chaplinesque," so much of it is tied to wordless expression and acting with the face. It's a melancholy circus Fellini liked to paint, supported by Nino Rota's ebullient/lyrical score but in the end shows how some chains can never be broken. Like any good fable or morality play, it saddens but doesn't disappoint.

(A week after watching "La Strada," Nino Rota's score still capers in my head.)

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