Not rated. It's an older movie and Italian, so you just can't judge. Here's what you have to look out for. This is fundamentally a story about domestic abuse. There's a murder, albeit an accidental murder. (Whether you want to judge it as manslaughter, that's up to you.) The primary antagonist is a womanizer, so really he's just the most unlikable character. While it has some really gruesome stuff in it, most of it happens off-screen. Visually an appropriate film, but it has some heavy themes.
DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini
This, of course, is not meant to be confused with the Cormac McCarthy story of The Road, which is somehow even more bleak than this story. We're leaving for Italy on Friday and I really want to watch all of my Italian films before then. I started Duolingo, so I'll know that "The boy eats the apple" by the time I leave. But I'm starting to look at Fellini through a new light. I know that Fellini was the first one to defend the notion of the Italian New Wave, but this movie definitely feels more like Neorealism than it does the New Wave. Perhaps the notion of the traveling performers is a bit specific, but the character work in La Strada seems to plant it firmly in the world of Neorealism.
The era of Neorealism was this time in Italy post-war where they were redefining themselves. A lot of neorealism has to do with being cohabitants with an invader. In the case of Italians, it was coming to grips with the concept that they were Italians side-by-side with Americans. But stuff like The Bicycle Thieves dealt more with the fallout of a poor country and the inevitability of poverty on a country. Another thing that should be taken into account is the idea that emotion comes second to truth. I always had a hard time coming to grips with that element of neorealism because neorealism tends to always be remarkably emotional for me. Honestly, the most sympathy that I ever feel in films can be found in Bicycle Theives and Umberto D. La Strada is no different for me. Yeah, there's this inevitability of fate that surrounds Gelsomina. There doesn't seem to be any happy ending for her, despite the fact that the world teases her with potential. When she meets the Fool, there's the hope that his lust for life might be a chance for her to get away from Zampano. But as much as we like the Fool, he doesn't quite live up to his persona.
The Fool is what it means to be an artist. I know that Fellini took his three leads and then gave them each elemental attributes. But The Fool is also someone who seems to genuinely love what he is doing. If I can strip away Fellini's heavy metaphor, from a character perspective, he is doing what every kid dreams about when it comes to joining the circus. Zampano is this guy who has this very specific talent. He's looking to make a quick buck, despite making almost no money. But The Fool, he is responsibility free. He finds joy in his poverty. It never seems to be this burden on him. He goes on the high-wire because it is fun. He wants to go up on stage and tell jokes. He has enough to get by and that's all he wants. That's attractive as heck, especially from Gelsomina's position. Gelsomina is in this because basic capitalism has her trapped. When she views someone like The Fool, the notion that money being the only force driving someone disappears. (Geez Louise, I am now going to go into this socialist argument to make the masses who read this blog upset.) I'm going to finish up my thoughts on the Fool, but this anti-Capitalist thing has legs. The Fool, for all of his joy for the stage, can't possibly make the mature leap to responsibility. Gelsomina, in her virtue, cannot throw herself at him. But she is being abused and the Fool sees it. The odd decision is that the Fool is the one who pushes her back into the arms of Zampano. She confides in the Fool, seeing a kindred spirit. The only joy she gets from this entire experience is in the performance that she contributes. When the Fool offers advice for staying with Zampano, it feels like it is good advice. But it also is a downplaying about the role of abuse. Fellini understands that with the ending that the movie gets.
But now I want to talk about the death of Capitalism and the rise of a Federation-style socialism. (Yeah, my in-laws probably don't love my take on economics and politics.) The reason that she is with Zampano is because Gelsomina's parents borderline sell her off because they are so poor. There's no consideration that Zampano is a monster. There's this fear that money is everything. She doesn't want to leave with him, but mother's knee-jerk reaction that anything is better than poverty. Now, I don't want to be the comfortable-guy-with-a-blog-dowplaying-poverty, but I do want to want to establish that Gelsomina goes from content to miserable very quickly. I've already talked about the Fool representing the role of art. But there's a very touching moment where Gelsomina meets some kind sisters. I'm going to be plucking a little bit out of Nights of Cabiria, but Fellini has this interest in the religious order. With Cabiria, the religious are seen as a little bit foolish, but in a blameless way. But La Strada has the sisterhood as a real option for Gelsomina. These are women who embrace poverty and live in a socialist society. They work for each other and find value in service. But Gelsomina is all screwed up from her conversations with The Fool. The Fool has kind of brainwashed her into a mission that should not exist. Her purpose, according to The Fool, is to take care of Zampano and give him company. It's this attitude that leads to the Fool's death and Gelsomina's ultimate slow crawl to the grave. Zampano is all about money. He never really gets it. But he's obsessed with money. He's the one who is always shucking and jiving for an extra coin. Gelsomina is less of a companion for him and more of a means to add a couple of extra bucks from an audience.
Do you know the weirdest part about La Strada? This is my theory, but I think everything bizarre in this movie is due to Dino DeLaurentis. I don't think I've seen much of DeLaurentis's work in Italy, but he's moving this movie. There's a reason that this movie got international attention. But having Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart in this film is mind-boggling. I know that when I think of Roman Polanski, especially with The Tenant, he used both local language speakers and English speakers. But I felt like Polanski had a foot in both worlds, which explained that choice. But with Fellini? I don't associate Fellini with American actors. Fellini screams Italian through and through. Yet, the way that the movie starts with the overtly Hollywood opening credits. But it's bizarre because the dubbing is weird. I had an easier time imagining that Anthony Quinn was saying his lines. But when it came to Basehart? Listen, I loved his character, but he screamed dubbing the entire time. It's just a weird choice.
Man, I love La Strada. Between Nights of Cabiria and this movie, I am also a big fan of Guilietta Masina. There's something so wholesome and earnest about her and I can say that she made the movie. My take on Fellini is changing and he's starting to become on of my favorite directors. I think I just watched his films in the wrong order.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.