Sunday, September 14, 2008

La Strada (1954) A Film by Federico Fellini

In a century of cinema that has certainly seen its share of decadent personal visions, few reach the radical extremes of Italian icon Federico Fellini's films. His embellishments of Italian culture have detached me from his themes time and time again. His obsessively recurrent motifs (circuses, raucous town centers, zany lunatics) have led me to believe he is one of the most self-indulgent filmmakers in history. However, there is a childlike grace and compassion that shines through these criticisms which is unmissable. Surely his films have the capacity to enchant and captivate, but the universal themes he attempts to evoke are often times shrouded in the quirky dynamics of his films, which I think are anything but fluent. A recognizable characteristic of Fellini's films is Nina Rota's scores, which are constantly circus-like and rambunctious, and serve to toss your attention around wildly. Surprisingly, up until seeing La Strada, his most personal film, Amarcord, was my favorite of his. I discovered soon enough that the rewards of his tale of love and cruelty are plentiful.

La Strada is the story of the self-deprecating but generous vagabond Gelsomina who is sold to the hulking traveling performer Zampano to work with him in his circus acts. When Gelsomina gives her heart continually, Zampano violently orders her around. Along the road, a possible metaphor for living, Gelsomina and Zampano encounter various postwar celebrations such as weddings and performances until finally they join up with another circus troupe, one which contains Zampano's longtime enemy The Fool, a tightrope artist of giddy passion. When emotions stir up between Zampano and The Fool and eventually take a turn for the worst, Gelsomina is left to fend for herself in a world she has learned is unforgiving. Zampano realizes in a powerful ending where he has gone wrong, and through this epiphany Fellini shows he can empathize with human beings of all types, no matter how monstrous.

At times the imagery is extremely enticing, such as in the scene where Gelsomina first escapes and jaunts around in the windy, barren market square after the tight rope display. The compositions can be very striking, but could benefit from being on the screen longer. La Strada is Fellini's most coherent film, and in my opinion his most masterful achievement. I just wish that at some point in his career he could have broke free from his artistic handcuffs and explored some slightly different areas.

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