The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema
La strada (1954) is part of Fellini’s solitude trilogy made in the mid-fifties, including Il bidone (1955) and Le notti di Cabiria (1957), that displays the director’s move from neorealism to more autobiographical, fantastically-imbued films. It is a road movie, a “joint experience between man and man”, Fellini described it, and which foreshadows another spiritual journey, in La dolce vita (1960). The film had a resounding success, winning the Silver Lion in Venice and the first of his four Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
Giulietta Masina plays Gelsomina, a simple, poor peasant girl sold by her family to Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a cruel and brutish circus performer. She becomes part of his act. With her bowler hat, shabby clothes and distinctive physical performance, Masina’s innocent wide eyes and round face brought comparisons with Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin’s tramp and Fellini’s Gelsomina share similar gestures and an innocence that helps them meet the world bravely and put up a bluff. Both are reminiscent of the comedian dell’arte characters. Like so many Fellini creations, Gelsomina was born in his sketchbook, but he based the character on the actual Giulietta Masina, especially on portraits of her from her childhood.
“Giulietta has the lightness of a phantom, a dream, an idea. She possesses the movements, the mimic skills and the cadences of a clown,” the director said about his muse and wife. Gelsomina remained the favourite of all the director’s characters, remarks Chris Wiegand in the book Federico Fellini: The Complete Films. So powerful was Masina’s performance that the public called out for a sequel. Manufacturers of dolls and sweets went after the rights for the character and there was even talk about an animated cartoon. Fellini would have none of it. There was a time when money didn’t dictate everything.
photo: film still | Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina in “La strada” | Ponti-De Laurentiis Cinematografica