Director: Federico Fellini
Production: Ponti-De Laurentiis (Rome); black and white, 35mm; running time: 102 minutes, some sources state 107 minutes or 94 minutes; length: about 2,800 meters. Released 1954, Venice Film Festival. Filmed December 1953-May 1954 in Ponti-De Laurentiis studios in Rome; also on location in Viterbo, Ovindoli, Bagnoregio, and in various small towns in Central and Southern Italy.
Producers: Carlo Ponti and Dino De Laurentiis; screenplay: Federico Fellini and Tullio Pinelli with Ennio Flaiano; photography: Otello Martelli; editor: Léo Catozzo; sound engineer: A. Calpini; production designer: M. Ravesco, with artistic collaboration by Brunello Rondi, assisted by: Paolo Nuzzi; music: Nino Rota; special effects: E. Trani; costume designer: M. Marinari.
Cast: Giulietta Masina (Gelsomina); Anthony Quinn (Zampano); Richard Basehart (Il matto, "the fool"); Aldo Silvani (Monsieur Giraffa); Marcella Rovere (The widow); Lina Venturini (The sister).
Awards: Venice Film Festival, Silver Prize, 1954; New York Critics Award, Best Foreign Film, 1956; Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 1956.
Fellini, Federico, and Tullio Pinelli, La strada, in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), September-October 1954; also published in Il primo Fellini, Bologna, 1969; translated as La Stada, edited by Peter Bondanella and Manuela Gieri, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1987.
Renzi, Renzo, Federico Fellini, Parma, 1956.
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Burke, Frank, Federico Fellini: Variety Lights to La Dolce Vita, Boston, 1984.
Chandler, Charlotte, The Ultimate Seduction, New York, 1984.
Fava, Claudio F., and Aldo Vigano, The Films of Federico Fellini, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1985.
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Gieri, Manuela, Contemporary Italian Filmmaking: Strategies ofSubversion: Pirandello, Fellini, Scola, and the Directors of theNew Generation, Toronto, 1995.
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Martini, Stelio, in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), 1 November 1953.
"La Strada Issue" of Cinema (Rome), 10 August 1954.
Bruno, Eduardo, in Filmcritica (Rome), August-September 1954.
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Aristarco, Guido, in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), 10 November 1954.
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de Laurot, Edouard, "La Strada—A Poem on Saintly Folly," in FilmCulture (New York), no. 1, 1956.
Lefèvre, Raymond, "Peut-on parler du néo-surréalisme de Fellini?" in Image et Son (Paris), January 1956.
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Weiler, A. H., in New York Times, 17 July 1956.
Young, Vernon, "La Strada: Cinematic Intersections," in HudsonReview (Nutley, New Jersey), Autumn 1956.
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* * *
La strada, one of the true masterpieces of modern cinema, is the film which brought international acclaim to director Federico Fellini. It is also an important transitional work in Italian cinema because its poetic and lyrical qualities set it apart from the literalness of the neorealism school which had dominated post-World War II Italy.
Fellini is an exponent of neo-realism, having apprenticed with Roberto Rossellini as a writer and assistant director on Open City and Paisan. However, when he began directing on his own, preceding La strada with The White Sheik and I vitelloni, he opted for a subjectivity which, while evidencing the influences of neo-realism, resulted in an interior and personalized cinema second only to Buñuel.
One of the recurring motifs in Fellini's films is the circus. As a youth, Fellini had spent a number of years with an itinerant circus troup and came to admire their simplicity and their affinity with nature. Other motifs center on his Franciscan-like religious beliefs of which he stated: "If one is to understand Christianity as an attitude of love towards another human being, then all my films revolve around it. I show a world without love inhabited by people who exploit other people, but there is always among them some significant person who wants to give love and to live for the sake of love." Both elements can be found in La strada, where a simple story involving the theme of redemption is set among itinerant circus folk.
Fellini wrote La strada (with Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano) for his actress-wife Giulietta Masina. When he presented the project to producers Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, they rejected it as uncommercial, then suggested filming it with Silvano Mangano (Mrs. De Laurentiis) and Burt Lancaster as the stars. Fellini insisted that only his wife would play Gelsomina, and was finally able to convince Anthony Quinn, then in Italy making Attila, the Hun, to accept the role of Zampano. His producers acquiesced and the project was underway.
La strada is a serio-comic tragedy in which Fellini presents many levels of emotion and contrasting images. Its abiding message is that everyone has a purpose in life, a philosophy manifested through the lives of the three leading characters. Gelsomina is the self-sacrificing, doe-eyed simpleton (love) who becomes the chattel of Zampano, the animalistic circus strong-man (brutality). The catalyst in their fatal relationship is Il Matto, the Fool, whose prescience helps the ignorant Gelsomina to see her own value as a human being (imagination). On one level the story is a fable, a variation on Beauty and the Beast, with Gelsomina, whose beauty is within, loving the beast. On another level it is a religious allegory in which the Fool, says Fellini, represents Christ. It is also an unprepossessing story of life's rejects, for whom Fellini has always shown compassion, struggling with their own solitude. This juxtaposition of realism, fantasy and spirituality makes Fellini's La strada unique.
As defined by the title, La strada, or The Road, is an episodic journey in the lives of these three outcasts. Zampano travels from village to village with his motorcycle and three-wheeled trailer performing a strongman's feat of breaking an iron chain by expanding his muscular chest. His act requires a helpmate so he purchases Gelsomina from her destitute mother for 10,000 lire. (Zampano's former helpmate had been Gelsomina's sister who had died on the road.) Gelsomina becomes Zampano's slave. With much difficulty she learns to beat a drum, announce his act—"Zam-pan-o is here"—, play the trumpet, and fulfill his sexual needs. Zampano lives in a world of physical appetites, while Gelsomina communicates with the sea, the birds, the flowers. For a while they join a travelling circus where Il Matto, the equilibrist, taunts the brutish Zampano, and counsels Gelsomina in the spiritual.
After leaving the circus, their paths once again cross with that of Il Matto. This time when the Fool derides the strongman, Zampano accidently kills him. The Fool's death sends Gelsomina into a state of depression and Zampano selfishly deserts her. Five years later he learns that she has died and only then, through her loss, is he able to recognize his remorse and the magnitude of his own solitude. Fellini closes his film with a chilling scene by the sea where Gelsomina had always felt at home.
The impact of the film is the result of Fellini's poetic imagery and not any cinematic tricks. The most apparent cinematic device is the moving camera and beautiful photography of Otello Martelli. Nino Rota's enchanting musical score has since become an international classic. Most important to the effectiveness of the film is the acting. Quinn's performance as Zampano is superb and brought him long overdue acclaim as an actor of stature, and Basehart is a commendable and mischievous Il Matto. Most outstanding of all is the wonderful face and pantomime of Giulietta Masina whose comedic abilities were compared to those of Chaplin and Harry Langdon.
The majority of reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with the Catholic press describing it as a "parable of charity, love, grace, and salvation." There were, however, dissenting votes. The Italian leftists felt Fellini had betrayed neorealism, and some government factions protested the film's exportation to other countries, claiming it presented a sordid and immoral view of ordinary Italians.
The film is the first of what is often described as Fellini's trilogy of solitude—Il bidone and The Nights of Cabiria completing the trilogy. La strada won over 50 international awards, including the Grand Prize at the Venice Festival, The New York Film Critics Award, and the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.