Movie Review #718
Ponti-Di Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributor: Trans Lux (subtitled) – The Criterion Collection (subtitles)
Spoken Languages: Italian
Directed by Federico Fellini. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti. Story and screenplay: Federico Fellini & Tulio Pinnelli. Dialogue: Tulio Pinelli. Screenplay collaborator: Ennio Flajano.
Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 6, 1954. Wide release in Italy on September 22, 1954; and in the USA on July 16, 1956. Runs 1 hour, 48 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA.
Starring Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcello Rovere, and Livia Venturini. Featuring uncredited cameo appearances by Mario Passante, Goffredo Unger, Nazzareno Zamperla, Gustavo Giorgi, Yami Kamadeva, and Anna Primula.
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” – The Book of Proverbs 9:3-5 (King James Version)
“The Fool is hurt.” – Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina)
There’s two different magnitudes at which one can identify a great filmmaker. There’s the Steven Spielberg magnitude, which basically denotes a director who can entertain and bust the blocks. Which is basically what the ideal director sets out for, so if you’re saying, “So and so the next Spielberg,” that’s some high praise.
It’s difficult to say about the director who helped found my love for movies, but that’s actually the lower magnitude in this idiomatic praise. The higher one is Federico Fellini, and no, he isn’t my favorite director, but he’s most certainly one of the three or four absolute greatest filmmakers there are. The man is of some serious talent. He’s an actor’s director, an writer’s director, and an artist’s director. He himself is indeed an artist, and although his movies are primarily in Italian, he has an unexplainable power to speak to the global audience with his curious comedy-dramas.
One of which is “La Strada”, which, for those who are familiar with a later classic of this director, I shall note as “4 1/2”. This is a film that starts off so well, you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. And of course, somewhere around the forty-minute mark, that’s precisely what it does. The crescendo is beautiful. Everything that made the film phenomenal to begin with lavishly aggrandizes. The cinematography is absolutely masterful, and I most greatly salute Otello Martelli for transforming “La Strada” into one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. It’s unnerving to think that the Academy completely overlooked the beauty in this film.
The acting is great all around. Anthony Quinn is as good as any individual in the cast. So is Giulietta Masina as his wife, Gelsomina, and those are some stellar performances I speak of. Brilliance surrounds this Zenlike masterpiece, the grand opus of a marriage that just isn’t working. The plot is so human, which is why it works. It doesn’t try and make a movie out of its story. In fact, the lead male is a circus performer in a one-man show, for those who are tired of seeing burned-out businessmen in lead roles. Or maybe the fact that this man’s a circus performer and a soloist is Fellinian symbolism for extreme self-love. There’s a lot of that symbolism here, and it doesn’t take that much looking-for. A beach scene, for example, where our lead woman walks in the sand dunes–on the higher ground.
The characters in “La Strada”, especially the central woman Gelsomina, are delightfully offbeat. And Gelsomina is a serious naïve. Particularly with such an individual, “La Strada” would be the perfect mystery tale in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, but who am I to speak of Hitchcock when all is just perfect in the hands of Fellini? “La Strada” has held up for over a half a century, and I don’t doubt that it has a few more centuries left in it before the expiration date cometh.
LA STRADA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION. OTHER FORMATS INCLUDE VHS AND LASERDISC.