La Strada marked the turning point in director Federico Fellini’s career as a director, the moment when he broke away from Italian neorealism to make stranger, more surreal films. Eventually the latter were what he became best known for. It was also the first Fellini film to deal with the image of the clown, one of his obsessions.
It’s about a naïve young woman (Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife), Gelsomina, who is sold to a traveling entertainer played by Anthony Quinn. Quinn, alongside Richard Basehart, was the first of the many American actors to appear the director’s films (both were dubbed for the production of course). Quinn’s character Zampanò is a strongman who treats her horribly. Eventually they join a circus, where Gelsomina gets together with a high-wire artist played by Basehart. It all ends tragically, as you might expect.
David Cronenberg is one of many filmmakers who have cited La Strada’s impact. He said: “There was a theater across the street called the Studio and it showed only Italian films. And I saw people coming out of theater weeping. Even men. And I had walked across the road because I had never known a movie to do that to people and it was Fellini’s La Strada. That was the beginning of my understanding of the emotional power of film.”
It is visually great and highly emotional—one of Fellini’s true masterpieces, right up there with Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½. The film wasn’t easy to make. There were problems with the cast, and the director suffered a nervous breakdown right before the end of the shoot. When it finally came out, it played Venice and was one of the most controversial Silver Lion winners ever. There were literally fights between film cast and crew, and critics, especially Marxist critics who felt La Strada contained some Christian notions of redemption (which may be why it’s apparently Pope Francis’s favourite film, and found its way to the Vatican’s list of accepted “art films”). Some Italian and British critics also went out of their way to dismiss it. But naturally the French critics realised its greatness. It was the first foreign film to win Best Foreign Language Film (then a new category) at the Oscars.
The disc includes interviews with director Julian Gerard; an interview with Peter Mathews, senior lecturer in film and TV and London College of Communication; a 1995 Anthony Quinn interview from the BFI; commentary from Chris Weigand on selected scenes; and some archival footage from its Cannes appearance, including an interview with Giulietta Masina. It has had a 2K restoration for this version.