If you’re seeing this on the small screen, be sure to watch the Criterion DVD, which begins with a heartfelt and informative introduction by Martin Scorsese. Fellini’s greatest period falls between the mid-50s and the mid-60s during which time his cinema, almost by itself, became a bridge between the Italian neo-realism of the ’40s and the art cinema of the ’60s. La Strada leans into the neo-realist half of Fellini’s great decade, but, in my opinion, it’s not as mesmerizing or as heartbreaking as Nights of Cabiria. The two lead performers–Quinn and Masina (one the best actresses of 20th century cinema)–are marvelous and the imagery is gorgeous, with Fellini’s precision cutting and dramatic lighting pointing the way to 8½. Still, it doesn’t have the profoundness of Cabiria–for my money, Fellini’s second best movie (after 8½). Basically, this is a road movie about Zampanò, a carnival strongman (Quinn) and Gelsomina, his waif-like sidekick (Masina). Zampanò is too bedeviled by his own demons to respond to the Gelsomina’s sweetness, to show how much he cares about her. Eventually, she falls for another man–a clown (Basehart)–much to Zampanò’s chagrin. It ends as it should, surely and gently, winding its dusty way through the Italian countryside without plot gimmicks or false hopes. In some ways, this is De Sica material in Fellini’s hands, and it makes for an awkward fit. Yet, for its performances and for the obvious passion behind the filmmaking, this is must-see Fellini.
Directed by: Federico Fellini
Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano,Tullio Pinelli
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Giulietta Masina, Richard Basehart