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La Strada (The Road) is a black and white film directed by Federico Fellini and released in 1954. Is a visceral and tragic exploration of human love, hate and emotional need in human spirit largely unaffected by intellect. The three main characters are the Fool (Richard Baseheart), Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and Zampano (Anthony Quinn). These three are the human heart split up into emotional extremes.


The Fool is continuously giddy, puckish, quixotic and care-free, a character in strong counterpoint to the dark, brooding, violent, womanizing, brutish soul that is Zampano.

Gelsomina has a kind of melodic nature. She is simple-minded, childish, guileless and lacks any level of intellectual selfishness. She is different, not pretty, and unskilled in domestic tasks, quite useless by Zampano's standard. Her recognition of her own deficiencies and her need to have a purpose in life define her, but her innocent passivity makes her putty to any shaping forces around her. She is a tragic character, whose fatal flaw is her susceptibility to the extreme natures of the Fool and Zampano while she sloughs off the attentions of those who are truly kind to her. Her emotional states are bipolar, being either hurt and crying or broad-smilingly joyful and chipper, and she doen't dwell in either state for long.


The story begins when Zampano, a roaming performer, buys Gelsomina from her destitute mother to replace the girl's older sister, who has somehow died while with Zampano. Gelsomina is sad to leave her family and their tenuous life in a shack on the beach, but she is buoyed by the hope of helping her mother and younger sisters and by becoming an entertainer and making herself useful. The animal-like Zampano treats her terribly. He doesn't recognize the interest and talent she shows and does not take interest in her as a woman. She runs away and meets the Fool, but does not go with him. In the rest of the story, the three characters interact in a triangular fashion and each meet their own fate.


As cinema, the black and white medium is well-chosen, though incomplete attention to lighting is sometimes evident and distracting. The presentation is linear and the camerawork is basic and realistic, giving the film a play-like quality. The emotional chords struck by the actors, and the goofy face and natural clownlike portrayal of Gelsomina by Giulietta Masina make the film a certain audience-pleaser.


Still, the story and characters overshadow the cinematographic artistry of the film. They talk to the heart and any in-depth intellectual analysis of the story or the filmmaking itself will miss the import and seem superficial and academic. Gelsomina, the Fool and Zampano will stay in your subconscious and affect you longer and more deeply than will any more intellectual work, because these characters are probably already a natural part of you.

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