Strada, La [1954]

Considered by many to be Federico Fellini's most beautiful and powerful film, La Strada was the first film to reveal the range of Guilietta Masina, whose poignant performance as the childlike Gelsomina recalls Chaplin's Little Tramp. The bubbly, waiflike Gelsomina is a simpleton sold to the gruff, bullying circus strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) as a servant and assistant. Treated no better than an animal, Gelsomina nonetheless falls in love with the brute Zampanò. When they join a small circus they meet Il Matto (Richard Basehart), a clown who enchants Gelsomina and relentlessly taunts Zampanò, whose inability to control his hatred of Il Matto (literally, "the Fool") leads to their expulsion from the circus and eventually to the film's fateful conclusion. Masina is heartbreaking as the wide-eyed innocent, whose generous spirit and love of life leads her to try to "save" Quinn's unfeeling, brutal Zampanò. Though the film resonates with mythic and biblical dimensions, Fellini never loses sight of his characters, lovingly painted in all their frailties and failings. Fellini's lyrical style reaches back to the simple beauty of his neorealist films and looks ahead to the impressionistic fantasies of later films, but at this unique period in Fellini's career, they combine to create a poetic, tragic masterpiece. --Sean Axmaker

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