Starring: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart
Director: Federico Fellini
Rated: M 15+
Distributor: Madman Cinema
The road of life is strewn with carnivals…at least, it was in Italy in the ’20s and ’30s when director Federico Fellini was growing up. Legend has it that he even ran away with the circus when he was 12 but his mother disputed the claim saying that it was just a figment of her son’s rampant imagination. Whatever the case, Fellini paid a profound tribute to the humanity of circus folk and the nature of performance itself in his fifth film La Strada (The Street).
Zampano (Anthony Quinn dubbed in Italian) is a travelling strong man, flexing his pectoral muscles in every two bit town his makeshift motorcycle caravan takes him to. With him is Gelsomina (Guiletta Masina) who embarked on this, her life’s journey, with hope but all too soon discovered that Zampano was a no good, boozing womaniser.
One night in a crowded piazza, she becomes entranced by the sight of a high wire artist fearlessly eating spaghetti125 feet up in the air. This is Il Matto – The Fool (Richard Basehart, again dubbed over). He and Zampano have been engaged in a long running feud because The Fool simply can’t help mock the brute every time he claps eyes on him, riling him up like a baited bear.
After narrowly escaping a beating from his target, The Fool confronts Gelsomina with the options laid out before her; she could join him, go with the circus or stay with Zampano – after all, if she doesn’t, who will? “Even a pebble has a purpose” he explains. A light bulb goes off in what he laughingly describes as her “artichoke” head and she makes her tragic decision.
When this poetic black and white film was first screened in London, people flooded Giulietta Masina’s hotel room with gifts of socks, scarves and shawls, thinking that she was really this poor circus girl that Fellini had found and married out of pity. In fact, Masina was from a distinctly bourgeois background and she and Fellini had already been together for ten years but it was a great testament to her power of transformation and to her ability to move audiences of any nationality, including Americans who awarded La Strada an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1955.