At the 1957 Academy Awards Ceremony, the Oscar for Best Foreign Film went to the Italian movie La Strada (1954). Federico Fellini, the director of that film, went on to take his place among the greats of world cinema, and today he is remembered for an impressive body of work that includes La Dolce vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), and Amarcord (1973). While La Strada lacks the complexity and audaciousness of some of Fellinis later movies, it is nonetheless a charming, accessible, and poetic film that no cineaste should miss, and Im delighted that Criterion Collection has released it on DVD.
La Strada was photographed in the neorealist tradition, and the picture quality on the DVD is very nearly flawless. The movie was shot at ordinary-looking locations, and the camerawork and editing are straightforward. But Fellinis lyrical images and Nino Rotas rather romantic scorereminiscent of his work in The Godfathermitigate the bleakness of the setting.
Anthony Quinn is the leading man in La Strada, and I found him to be both compelling and intimidating as the bullying protagonist. Another Hollywood actor, Richard Basehart, plays an important supporting role in the movie. However, the most famous thing about La Strada is probably the Chaplinesque performance by Italian actress Giulietta Masina (Fellinis wife), and I doubt that anyone who has ever seen the movie could forget her in it. Masina helps to create one of the most heartbreaking and enchanting roles Ive seen on film.
It appears to me as though La Strada was shot with the Americans speaking English and the Italians speaking Italian, and then the dialogue as heard on the soundtrack was added later. The DVD offers two soundtracks, one in Italian, the other in English. The English-language track has the advantage that the voices of Quinn and Basehart are present, but everyone else sounds strange to me, and all the dialogue comes off stagy. The Italian-language track dubs in other voices for Quinns and Baseharts characters, but the overall dramatic effect seems better to me.
I would characterize the story in La Strada, which best translates into English as The Road, as being a fable. Quinn portrays Zampanò, a brute of a man who is only a step away from being a beast. Zampanò ekes out a living by traveling around, drawing a crowd to a square, expanding his chest to break a chain, then passing the hat. He takes on the simpleminded Gelsomina (Masina) as a concubine and assistant, and she helps by adding music and humor to his street performances. Zampanò treats Gelsomina badly, but she possesses a sublime purity of heart that permits their arrangement to function, at least for a while. However, when Zampanò butts heads with a trickster known as the Fool (Basehart), things take a bad turn that eventually results in Gelsomina having a nervous breakdown.
La Strada tells a somber story, but it still leaves me with a feeling of hope because Zampanò, who is more like an animal than a man at the movies beginning, becomes somewhat humanized through his time spent with the soulful Gelsomina.
The Criterion Collection DVD set of La Strada comes with a 14-minute video introduction by Martin Scorsese, and theres also a theatrical trailer for the English-language version of the movie. In addition, theres a 55-minute documentary made for Italian television titled Federico Fellinis Autobiography, which is reasonably interesting for hard-core Fellini fans like myself. My favorite bonus material is the feature-length scholarly audio commentary by Peter Bondanella, author of Italian Cinema: Neorealism to the Present and The Cinema of Federico Fellini. Below Ive given a list of all the special features included with the two-disc set.Selected Special Features on the DVDs:
- Two-Disc Set
- Full-Screen Format (1.33:1)
- English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- English Subtitles
- Audio Commentary by Fellini Scholar Peter Bondanella
- Video Introduction by Martin Scorsese (14 Min.)
- Fellini Documentary Originally Broadcast on Italian TV (55 Min.)
- Theatrical Trailer for English Version
- 8-Page Booklet (Includes Essay by Peter Matthews)