"La Strada" established Federico Fellini as one of the best Italian directors of his generation. Working with his usual collaborator, Tulio Pinelli, the master created a human story that is still, as fresh today, as when it opened. The fantastic musical score by Nino Rota gives the film an elegance that transcend the poor background of the people one sees in the movie. Also, the crisp black and white photography by Otelo Martelli enhances our enjoyment.
This could be considered Fellini's first masterpiece. His previous work was, of course, excellent, but with "La Strada", he proved he had an amazing understanding of the characters he presents to us. It is almost as though, he had known these people all his life and just decided to incorporate them in a movie. This is a film that showed an Italy that had suffered a defeat during WWII. Italy was struggling to heal itself from the horrible times it had lived during the conflict and what the director and his collaborators show us is an impoverished country trying to cope with the new reality. La Strada" is a film about the suffering and hard times the citizens had gone through, but also shows hope in an uncertain future.
Zampano, the brutish street performer, was a man that showed no redeeming qualities. He returned to the beach shack where Rosa's mother and siblings live to tell them about her death. Watching the young and innocent Gelsomina, he figures he has found a substitute for the act. Zampano is a misogynistic man who only cares about his pleasure, not paying any attention to the needs of the young woman who is not street wise.
The film, in a way, is Fellini's type of 'road movie' because we are taken along the byways of the country, before the construction of the super highways, to witness Zampano as he practices his trade from town to town. Gelsomina soon catches on, and in her heart she believes Zampano is, in his own way, the man for her. Unfortunately, Zampano leaves Gelsomina whenever a new woman strikes his fancy. He uses Gelsomina as a slave.
When they meet Il Matto, the good natured tight wire artist, Zampano notices how Gelsomina responds to this kind soul. Il Matto, in spite of what he feels about Zampano, advises Gelsomina to stay with him. A fatal judgment it proves to be. Tragedy arrives when Zampano and Gelsomina run into Il Matto on the road. This incident unravels Zampano as he begins a spiral descent into hell because his conscience doesn't let him have peace, and in turn, Gelsomina, makes sure to let him know she knows the immensity of what he has done.
Zampano in abandoning Gelsomina thinks he has solved all his problems, but a few years later he comes across a young woman who is humming the song that Gelsomina used to sing. In fact, we learn what happened to the sweet girl, and we are shocked and saddened. Zampano, who seems to be a man without any feeling, upon learning this walks away, but his guilt gets the best of him and we watch him as he breaks down as the film comes to an end.
Anthony Quinn had one of the best moments of his long and distinguished career with Zampano. His understanding of this cruel man makes the film work the way it does. Mr. Quinn's interpretation of the street performer is real and we can see what kind of man he really is. Our perception of this man, who has led us to believe he has a heart of stone changes at the end when we see his breakdown.
Giulietta Masina is perfect as Gelsomina. This actress, married to Mr. Fellini, had an uncanny way of transforming herself into the young and naive woman and makes her come alive. Gelsomina personifies all the best qualities any person could aspire to have. It comes naturally for her to be good; Gelsomina doesn't have malice and is a grown up child in many ways.
Richard Basehart has some good moments in the film as Il Matto. In fact, Fellini elicited a great performance from this actor, who took a big gamble accepting the challenge that his character demanded from him. Mr. Basehart proved he was an extraordinary actor and it shows in this film.
"La Strada" is a film that will live forever thanks to the man who had the vision to bring it to the screen: Federico Fellini!