Starring: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart
Director: Federico Fellini
Running Time: 104 mins
La Strada is an Italian film about a naive woman who is taken on the road by a hot-headed street performer, traversing the country and encountering a range of bizarre situations as her eyes are opened to the world.
This is an absolute classic not just of Federico Fellini’s filmography, nor just Italian cinema, but world cinema, and it’s easy to see why. For me, La Strada may not stand up to some of Fellini’s more outlandish pieces, but it’s a film that’s full of unique heart and energy, making for both an entertaining and emotional watch right the way through, complete with good humour and strong drama, and two fantastic central performances that make for a thoroughly engrossing watch at every moment.
Let’s start off with what I liked most about La Strada – the performances. With the film centring on Zampanò and Gelsomina as they travel the country with their travelling street act, Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina give wonderful performances that make those two characters absolutely brilliant to watch throughout, and fully invest you in their emotions.
Quinn is excellent as the rough and hot-headed Zampanò, who takes the naive Gelsomina from her home and effectively uses her as his live-in servant, as well as on-stage assistant. In that, he’s a character that you’d expect to have little sympathy for, but Quinn’s performance combines the hard machoism of the character with a still strong sense of failure and loss in achieving his dream of being a great performer, something that ultimately allows you to really care for him and take an interest in his ups and downs in a way that I didn’t expect at first.
However, while Anthony Quinn is excellent, it’s Giulietta Masina that puts in the best show here, with a performance so striking and tragically beautiful that it’s impossible not to love in every single way. Playing a very naive and rather eccentric young woman thrust into a completely unknown situation, there’s a tragic patheticness about her character, something that immediately draws your sympathy as a viewer, and yet her naivety means that she’s a beautifully innocent and lovable individual, and as such is a truly wonderful lead to follow throughout, bringing great emotion and joy to the film throughout.
Away from those two lead performances, and there’s a wonderful balance between comedy and drama, in a more pleasant way than many of Fellini’s films. While this definitely isn’t any sort of throwaway, laugh-out-loud comedy, it uses lighter, sweeter comedy to entice you into its bizarre world, and in tandem with the unique and engrossing drama throughout that centres on the trials and tribulations of Zampanò and Gelsomina as the travel the country, it all makes for a really entertaining and consistently engrossing watch.
It may not have the extreme uniquness of the likes of 8 1/2, but La Strada is still a both delightful and engrossing watch that features fantastic directing and two brilliant lead performances, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8 overall.