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La Strada [RSC Film Club 34]


LimeGreenLegend

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LimeGreenLegend

This month we are going international as the film club watches a movie in a language that we've not yet covered, as suggested by @djw180.  So no films in English, French, Norwegian, Korean or Japanese could be nominated.  The winning film, nominated by me, is Federico Fellini's neorealist drama, La Strada (The Road).  

Amazon.com: La Strada Vintage Anthony Quinn Movie Poster CANVAS Print:  Posters & Prints

It stars Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina, a naive and simple young woman whose mother sells her to a travelling circus to be the wife and assistant of the brutish strongman,  Zampanò (Anthony Quinn).  She soon falls in love with the circus's clown, Il Matteo (Richard Baseheart) and considers leaving her jeasous and violent husband for him.  

I'm really looking forward to watching this as I'm both a fan of Fellini, and of Masina.  Their other collaboration that I've seen, Nights of Cabiria in which Masina plays a down on her luck prostitute, is one of my favourite films ever and her performance one of the best I've ever seen.  Masina was his muse and his inspiration, and you can feel the love he has for her in the way he films her.  The two were married from 1943 until his death in 1993.  

This is considered one of Fellini's greatest masterpieces, so if you've never seen a film of his before you are in for a treat.

Federico Fellini GIF by Maudit

the fool is hurt

Edited by LimeGreenLegend
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djw180

I ordered a cheap 2nd hand copy from Amazon. Checked it would play on a UK DVD player. Did not check the language options though. It's only subtitle option is Japanese! Fortunately however it looks like there are a number of websites with free versions. So I should still be able to watch this.

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djw180

An interesting and enjoyable film but one I struggle to see as one of the best ever, which it is often rated as. Despite it being very well made and acted there are a couple of flaws for me.

The plot summary. Set in 1950s Italy, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) is the 2nd eldest daughter of a poor family. At the start of the film Zampano (Anthony Quinn), who earns a living as a traveling entertainer, has arrived to tell the family their eldest daughter, Rosa, who worked with him, has died. He pays Gelsomina's mother to take her in Rosa's place. He trains her to work in his show, a mix of comedy, music and his signature strong man act. Eventually they join a circus troupe where Zampano has a big falling out with The Fool (Richard Basehart) with tragic consequences.

Those three actors give great performances, but other aspects of the film let it down for me. I have to acknowledge there is just something about the way some films of this era were made that I just don't enjoy that much but that I can't really explain. I'm also not really able to appreciate some of the more technical qualities of the film making art. But there are three things that detract from this film for me. First is Gelsomina, I just don't understand her or particularly like her. She seems to vary between a sort of totally confused little girl (though she is an adult) and at times just silly, like when she can not get the hand of doing Zampano's intro; she can't even repeat the words he is telling her to say. I understand she's probably grown up with almost no contact with people outside her family and then essentially duped into thinking she's going off on some fantastic adventure that will make her famous, when in fact what Zampano has in store is nothing like that at all. I know many people will find that cute and endearing, but for me she is just plain annoying at times. Secondly the plot does not explain what actually happened to Rosa and no one seems to particularly care. When Zampano tells the family that Rosa is dead, why do the mother and Gelsomina not want to know more? why don't they want to know where their daughter/sister is buried, for example? Finally, but the worst negative, it's the partially dubbed dialogue. It's an Italian film but two of the main actors, Quinn (Mexican) and Basehart (American) did not speak Italian so their lines are dubbed over. At times it was noticeable that Anthony Quinn's lip movement did not match the dialogue. But even if it hadn't of been, I just hate dubbing because the actor on screen is only doing half the job, the other half of their effort has been deleted and replaced by a lesser actor's lines. So for me dubbing always makes a film worse. They should have used proper Italian speakers. I don't know how famous Anthony Quinn was at that time, and until now had never heard of Richard Basehart, but it makes me think the producers wanted well known Hollywood names in the film, no matter how poorly suited they might be.

So whilst definitely worth watching, this, for me, is not one of the greatest films ever made. 6/10.

Edited by djw180
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Con

La Strada (1954)

I expected more of a soap opera than a road trip so that was a nice surprise, since the synopsis made it sound like this was going to be a triangle love story. The soundtrack is almost a character of its own and it really works in this film. The acting was very good but did find myself laughing at some of the faces Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina) makes throughout the film, I mean sometimes those facial expressions come across as blooper reel footage, I found some of them very awkward for the tone of some scenes. I mean as soon as she is summoned by the kids as she is picking up sticks on the beach, we see her making faces that I found so distracting that I didn't realize Zampano (Anthony Quinn) was the person the mother was talking about, I thought Zampano was the father in that scene. But then I put it together and I liked how that scene was shot and while I will never understand selling your children, I know it was common in Italy after WWII. 

The scene of the horse walking by Gelsomina while Zampano was hooking up with the woman from the bar was splendid. I don't know why but seeing the lonely horse walk past an even lonelier Gelsomina really made me think of so many meanings to it. One of my favorite scenes was during the religious procession where we see the "Bar" sign in the foreground, it's those contrasts which make these films so worth watching, everyone is marching that one day for God, but the rest of the days they are at bars getting drunk, but don't worry, they have an excuse because the Christ's first miracle involved making booze, so obviously the God is cool with drinking that purple drank!!!  

 I enjoyed the character of the Fool (Richard Basehart) he had just the right amount of being annoying. Like I would rather chill with the Fool than with Zampano any day of the week. I like how the Fool just didn't give a f*ck about how big and strong Zampano is and when he throws the bucket of water at him, I was like, "oh no that mf didn !!!", those scenes were so much fun and I liked every scene the Fool and Zampano were in together. The theme of this film is hard to pin down but I think for me it came down to unconditional love and understanding. 

Okay, now some things I didn't like so much. Let's start with the facial expressions Gelsomina makes in every scene. Honestly, some of them were so distracting and unnecessary in my opinion. And then when she cries or weeps, the dub they use makes her sound like a dog wimpering, at one point I was expecting a small dog to limp into the scene, I literally said out loud, "Is that her crying and sounding like an actual dog? This is not a film I would recommend to people who are a bit depressed since the post-war setting is so depressing and the lives of the main characters are so pedantic, but in a positive note, I noticed that in many scenes the background actors are real busy-bodies and it contrasts well with how slow the lives of Zampano and Gelsomina seem to be when they are not performing so that kind of worked. The tone is very melancholic and the pace is slow as this is more of a character study than anything else. I did not like that we don't know exactly what happened to Gelsomina's sister, Rose, who died while she was also living with Zampano and I felt some dialogue about her whereabouts could have brought more tension and more impetus for Gelsomina to leave Zampano. 

Final Verdict...3/5... I enjoyed the adventure these characters took me on, even if it was a bit slow in places. The ending was superb and really flipped what I was expecting since I figured we would find Zampano years or even decades later still breaking chains while society has moved on from those sideshows, but that was all he knew how to do, it would have been awesome to have seen a fancy Gelsomina run into him. Kind of like the ending of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). Regardless, I felt the ending worked because without saying a word, we know that Zampano has learned his lesson about not appreciating people that are willing to be by your side despite your personality flaws. This is a film I would highly recommend to people who you know are loved immensely but somehow are taking it for granted and need a wake-up call. Ending up alone is a true reality if you don't heal your heart from whatever has closed it.  

Edited by Con
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Con
On 9/27/2021 at 3:48 PM, djw180 said:

First is Gelsomina, I just don't understand her or particularly like her. She seems to vary between a sort of totally confused little girl (though she is an adult) and at times just silly, like when she can not get the hand of doing Zampano's intro; she can't even repeat the words he is telling her to say. I understand she's probably grown up with almost no contact with people outside her family and then essentially duped into thinking she's going off on some fantastic adventure that will make her famous, when in fact what Zampano has in store is nothing like that at all. I know many people will find that cute and endearing, but for me she is just plain annoying at times.

Secondly the plot does not explain what actually happened to Rosa and no one seems to particularly care. When Zampano tells the family that Rosa is dead, why do the mother and Gelsomina not want to know more? why don't they want to know where their daughter/sister is buried, for example?

1. Yes, I agree, it seemed a younger actress would have fit the more immature moments because I felt she did come across as a young adult with partial mental handicaps. Her depression is poured on heavily but I felt her portrayal of those moments made them seem forced. She is depressed but ultimately doesn't want to return home, so what was the point of moping about it. Perhaps she was supposed to be slow and is hinted when the mother says she was born strange and she is not like the other girls. The problem with those lines is that they were said too early and hence came across as just a throw away lines as I'm just remembering them at the time of this post. I get that she gets abused physically by Zampano and she feels useless because she doesn't know how to cook, but is that because of lack of food at home to learn with and if so, why not throw a line in the film like that to explain her lack of cooking skills. That would have hit me hard if she didn't know how to cook because there was no food. 

2. That whole Rose thing was handled so poorly and I think they missed a great opportunity to use Rose's death by having Gelsomina ask Zampano what happened to her sister and have him refuse to answer the question, that would have hinted that he killed her, but only to then have him reveal at the end when he is on the beach that Rose had killed herself and is why he was heartbroken and became a major jerk. Something sappy about how he loved Rose but she never loved him or gave him a chance and instead killed herself to be away from him, unlike Gelsomina who sacrificed herself because no one else would want to be Zampano's wife. The film would have totally worked without the Rose narrative and I think is why it bothers us that her death was treated as unimportant. Had Zampano just arrived and asked to buy a wife without a Rose character, we wouldn't have this desire to know what happened to Rose and why would the mother entrust the same man with another one of her daughters. Imagine had Gelsomina said to Zampano, "Is that what you did to my sister??" after he hurts The Fool?? That would have been so good. 

Overall the film is entertaining because its old charm and it is a bit different from the things we watch now. I think it is considered one of the great films of all time because of the Zampano's journey and his ultimate lesson in life. Maybe at that time it was an original tragic rom-com character study that audiences had never seen before in that manner. I watched it in Italian with subtitles so I wasn't watching the mouths too closely and I used to watch tons of Kung-Fu films, and there is no worse examples of horrendous dubbing than in those films. But do understand how it could be distracting as heck. 

Edited by Con
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