Reel Reminiscent: A Review of La Strada (Italy)

Directed by Frederico Fellini
Starring Anthony Quinn, Giulietta Masina, and Richard Basehart

Watching La Strada may leave viewers with the same uneasiness that such classics as The Godfather and Goodfellas did. The latter two are obviously gangster flicks, demonstrating the seedy underworld that career criminals both create and commonly fall victim to. La Strada, on the other hand, tells the story of Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina), a young woman living in poverty with her mother and younger siblings, and who is consequently sold, for 10,000 lire, by her mother in to the employ of brutal circus strongman, Zampano (Anthony Quinn).
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But the similarities are there. And certainly, both The Godfather and Goodfellas explore the imbalanced gender dynamics that exist between men and women in extreme circumstances, much the way La Strada also uniquely does.

Indeed, to the post-modern enlightened viewer, the heavily codependent relationship that exists between Gelsomina and Zampano is unmistakably a domestic violence nightmare. It’s difficult to watch the brutish Zampano dominate the emotionally fragile Gelsomina both physically and sexually (though the latter violence is implied – albeit heavily – rather than shown) and equally so watching Gelsomina fawn in his presence despite the terrible injustices he inflicts on her.

And which she so tragically helps to energize. Their mutually toxic relationship echoes elements of the insane bond Stanley respectively shares with both Blanche and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Anthony Quinn’s Zampano, though, seems a less complicated man than Marlon Brando’s Stanley. Or does he? Arguably, there are enough circumstantial differences between Stanley and Zampano to render a comparison of their respective complexities moot.
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Namely, La Strada is evidently set throughout various coastal towns in Italy, not in a New Orleans apartment hotbox. And the sexual tension between Stanley and Stella (or between Stanley and Blanche, for that matter) does not exist in nearly the same helpings as it does between Zampano and Gelsomina. Nor should it. Nevertheless, Zampano’s complexity may be apparent all the same. In the final throes of the film, the viewer comes to recognise the drunkard he has become, with the slumped shoulders and fatigued face of an ageing man who’s both made mistakes throughout his life and quite possibly failed to learn anything of worth from them meanwhile.

La Strada thus successfully summons a portrait of the tragedy that exists at the heart of failed human relationships. More importantly, and like most of Scorsese’s and Coppola’s flawed characters in the above mentioned classics, Fellini’s film points to the misfortune that accompanies the unenlightened; those souls who, for the life of them, cannot see how they could have made any other decisions than the ones they chose without the exact same – or similar – tragedy unfolding. This aspect is indeed a nightmarish one.

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Pictures supplied by Capital Pictures

Clearly, the film draws comparisons for this here movie fan. Perhaps I’m reminded of the gangster genre because La Strada demonstrates the crazy-making relationship men and women so often share, and that the old-school Italian culture seems to dramatize so poignantly. Especially when done by the likes of cinema greats such as Coppola and Scorsese and, in this instance, Fellini.

Or perhaps it’s the film’s musical composition, which stirs up an evocative melancholia that seems to summarize Gelsomina’s ill-fate. La Strada’s haunting score is also hauntingly familiar, having been created by notorious composer, Nino Rota, of The Godfather fame. Perhaps the comparisons herein made by this junior film critic have not been for moot after all.

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