This month sees a nationwide reissue of Federico Fellini’s La Strada, in a visually delightful 2K restoration. Greeted with a mixed critical reception upon its initial release, the film’s prestige has considerably grown and it is now considered by many as Fellini’s masterpiece.
Following the death of his assistant, the circus strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) buys her sister, the naïve Gelsomina (Guilietta Masina). As the pair travel across a barren Italian landscape Zampanò is quickly revealed to be abusive and unpredictable. Joining a travelling circus they encounter on the road, Gelsomina falls for The Fool (Richard Basehart), whose uncontrollable urges to aggravate Zampanò result in tragedy for the trio.
Guilietta Masina’s performance as the sad clown is as strange as it is charming. Masina’s puppy-dog eyes alternate from overjoyed to miserable with little in between, as if her character’s simplistic worldview has reduced her face to the theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy. It’s a Chaplinesque performance that both grates with and acts as an antidote for Fellini’s neorealist stylings; and one that no doubt divided initial critical response.
The male leads are more straightforward but no less captivating. Anthony Quinn’s brutish strongman is toxic masculinity incarnate, a thug wearing a scowl that even a painted-on smile cannot hide. In contrast his foil, The Fool, is given a delightful playfulness by Baseheart that only serves to elevate the tragedy.
The Fool and his violin also provide part of Nino Rota’s score. It’s wonderful in its own right, among the greatest compositions of Rota’s illustrious career, but perhaps overly-sentimental – the images never quite match up to the music in terms of high emotion until the film’s devastating conclusion.
The new restoration is fantastic, doing justice to Otello Martelli’s gorgeous photography. The image clarity makes the out-of-sync dubbing all the more distracting – Italian films of the period were dubbed in post-production as no dialog was recorded on set – but this is only really an issue for first-time Fellini viewers.
Fellini’s story is a simple one, but La Strada manages to tap in to profound, poetic truths about human nature. It is at once a cynical look at life and a plea for compassion – and a film well worthy of its reputation.
LA STRADA IS AVAILABLE TO OWN ON 19 JUNE ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND EST.
Image: Studio Canal