Tag Archives: Federico Fellini

On viewing Fellini’s “La Strada” again

20 Feb

We saw Federico Fellini’s 1954 film,  La Strada  (in English, “The Road”) last night for perhaps the 3rd time. Repeated viewings of a film can reveal things that you hadn’t noticed the first time around, and with last night’s viewing, we saw something as obvious as a speeding Mack truck  that we had somehow managed not to notice on previous viewings.

OK, we’re getting a mite ahead of ourselves.  If you haven’t seen La Strada, and you want to see it free of anyone else’s opinion or perceptions, please stop reading this and by all means, view the film. (If so, we hope you’ll return to this post later.)

Have you seen the film? Great! Glad you’re back. If you’ve not seen the picture and you don’t care about spoilers, La Strada is the story of Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a traveling performer on a run-down 3-wheel motorcycle that doubles as a sleeping quarters.

As the film begins, Zampanò’s erstwhile partner, Rosa, has died. Zampanò turns up at Rosa’s mother’s home, where the mother promptly offers Gelsomina as Zampanò’s new partner for 10,000 lire. As for Gelsomina, well, nobody really asked her opinion.

Zampanò is your basic bully, and while training Gelsomina to be his partner, he applies a switch to her legs for not following his instructions to the letter. He’s also essentially a one-trick pony; his act consists of breaking a chain fastened around his chest and performing a brief farce in which Gelsomina is a duck and he the hunter.

OK, so what was the big, obvious thing that we noticed on this viewing that we failed to appreciate on previous viewings?  This time around, we saw Gelsomina not just as the naif-saint of previous viewings, but as a woman trapped in a relationship with an abusive partner. (If you find yourself thinking “Duh!”, we understand.) We don’t get the sense that theirs is a sexual relationship – Zampanò thinks nothing of leaving Gelsomina stranded while he goes off with women, but it’s relationship nonetheless. To be fair, Gelsomina is not completely passive; she makes an attempt to leave Zampanò, only to be found and forced to stay with him again.

Zampanò joins up with a larger traveling circus, where he manages to get himself thrown in jail. While he’s in the hoosegow, Gelsomina has a conversation with The Fool, a tightrope walker (Richard Basehart).  In response to her lament that she feels useless, The Fool observes that even the pebbles below their feet have a purpose, adding that if one thing is useless, then everything is useless. Gelsomina, holding a pebble in her hand, is radiant. She seems to decide that The Fool’s meaning is that she should stay with Zampanò, as he needs her. Others in the traveling circus entreat her to join them and leave Zampanò behind, but she declines, despite their seeming a lot kinder and a lot less dysfunctional than Zampanò (which would not be hard.)

We won’t summarize the rest of the film, as we don’t want to completely spoil your viewing experience. This time around, though, we were left with some pretty disturbing questions: Why did Rosa die?  Was she ill or did the brute Zampanò hasten her demise?  Why does Gelsomina pass up a chance to join a more congenial group of people? (True, she’s a bit of an innocent, but still, ya gotta wonder.)

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve failed to appreciate something obvious in a film.  We remember watching Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring with our spouse.  As the film ended, we reflected on the acting, the great cinematography, and the like.  We turned to our spouse, who was weeping.  She pointed out that the film was extremely sad – a young woman is brutally raped and murdered in the film. In our focus on acting, lighting, and photography, we had failed to see the forest for the trees.

So, in addition to providing you with new insights and things you’d not noticed before, sometimes repeated viewings of a film can show you how out of it you were on the first viewings.Nonetheless, on this viewing,  we again appreciated how Fellini frequently juxtaposes scenes of religion with scenes of show business. Even better, once again we were struck by Guilietta Masina’s expressive face.  With just a movement of her eyes, she can speak volumes.


Her face speaks volumes


Fun Facts about Federico Fellini

4 Dec

Apropos of nothing in particular, we’d like to ruminate on Fellini for a bit. After all, the late maestro’s name is almost synonymous with film making. One quirky thing about Fellini’s films is that the lip movements of his actors often didn’t match the dialogue they were speaking. We always thought that perhaps Fellini had difficulty obtaining quality recording devices, but it turns out that he could have had perfectly synchronized sounds and images if he had wanted. Before shooting a scene, Fellini often had not finalized what the dialogue would be, so he instructed the actors to recite numbers, and he would have them record the dialogue used in the final film later. So something like:

Woman: 23 47 35 8.
Man: 91 62 4 67.

could become:

Woman: You were out late last night.
Man: What do you mean? I was home early.

To Fellini, synchronized lip movements were not what made a film a film.

Another fine fact about Fellini actually involves his wife, Giulietta Masina, who played Gelsomina in the 1954 classic, “La Strada.” After the film was released, the Disney people approached Fellini because they wanted to create a character based on Gelsomina. Apparently, nothing ever came of it…

Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina

Giuletta Masina