(Film Review) La Strada (1954)
Fellini’s ‘La Strada’ could be seen, as the title suggests, as the original road movie, or at least as an Italian neorealist version of one. The film tells the story of Zampano, a somewhat successful street performer and Gelsomina, his quirky, naive assistant. The journey begins when Gelsomina’s takes her late sisters place as Zampano’s assistant. The two begin their awkward journey together and it is soon realised, that the sweet and childlike Gelsomina, has been sent off to work with an uncaring brute. Gelsomina is far too loyal and passive to stand up to Zampano and continues to follow him and his orders, despite her increasing misery.
It is not all doom and gloom however. Gelsomina loves her work as a street artist and takes solace in the opportunity she has been given to see the world for the first time. Along the way, she meets many wonderful people, including another young street artist known as The Fool. The Fool serves as a personification of Gelsomina’s childlike nature. He convinces Gelsomina to stay with Zampano, suggesting that perhaps the brute actually cares for her despite appearances.
What is unusual about this story, if read as a road movie, is the missed opportunity for Zampano to change when he accidentally kills The Fool, quite literally extinguishing Gelsomina’s innocence and transforming her into a sad, whimpering shell of her former self.
Whilst Zampano does appear to soften to some degree and shows signs of compassion towards Gelsomina, he still abandons her on the roadside and it isn’t until many years later when he discovers that Gelsomina died severely depressed, that Zampano himself completely breaks down and demonstrates the change in him the audience has been waiting to see.
La Strada is much more polished than most other Italian neorealist films 1. The cinematography is much less crude, though it does have a tendency to overexpose shots. The story is also far less bleak than its counterparts, often being quite humorous and endearing. It does however apply a repetitive score that is indicative to Gelsomina. The signature tune of the film is always utilised when Gelsomina is presented with an opportunity to leave her current situation or when she is quite saddened.
The exception to this is when Zampano hears a woman humming this tune many years after their separation, which incites an understanding by the audience that he is to discover a connection to her. Of course this turns out to be the moment he learns of her death and is consequently changed forever. It is also used when Zampono breaks down at the film’s end, solidifying the idea that Zampano cared deeply for Gelsomina. This attachment of score to characters or “time and place” is symptomatic of Nino Rota’s composition in neorealist films 2.
Exterior landscape is often used in neorealist films 3 and this conventional adaption is clearly and undeniably used is La Strada to define the nuances and vastness of the world, compared with Gelsomina’s inexperience with it. It is worth noting however, that the neorealist film is known for illustrating landscape as a real life representation of post-war Italy or Europe 3, a concept that is not demonstrated in this particular film, perhaps due in part to its later production 4.
In conclusion, La Strada may be viewed as an example of Italian neorealist film, if for no other reason than its delicate implementation of conventions and its execution by a neorealist director. However, I feel that the film is not necessarily neorealist, but rather an Italian Golden Age road movie.
1. DVD: Criterion Collection, La Strada; Martin Scorsese on La Strada
2. WEB: Imam, James, (2014), Italian Cinema and the age of Nino Rota; https://bachtrack.com/article-nino-rota-italian-film-music-month
3. WEB: CineCollage, (2012-2016), Italian Neorealism; http://cinecollage.net/neorealism.html
4. WEB: Carr, Jeremy, (year unknown), Studies in Cinema: Thoughts on Italian Neorealism;