La Strada

The road of magical neo-realism is a lopsided one, the joke is a cosmic allegory brought to a harsh Laurel and Hardy sketch: "Che faccia buffa che hai!" Seaside views bookend Federico Fellini’s breakthrough fable, the peasant girl who "just came out a little strange" is named Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) and sold off to Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a loutish saltimbanque who suggests a troglodyte Pulcinella. The mismatched couple is a natural for a muscleman and clown act, he faces a paltry audience with his solitary trick (chains snapped by "steel lungs") while she provides the off-key drum roll in black bowler and oversized coat. An air of quotidian enchantment hangs over the Italian countryside, where a rowdy wedding banquet outdoors gives way to a mysterious glimpse of an unsmiling boy deep within a convent’s ward. Later, street activity shifts rapidly from the sudden appearance of a trio of uniformed musicians to a surging religious procession to a tightrope act, where Il Matto (Richard Basehart) makes his entrance. In the rubble of a departing Roman circus, between the moon and the pebble, a vagabond philosophy is laid bare: "You may not believe it, but everything in this world has a purpose." Memories of Griffith, Vigo and Harry Langdon abound in Fellini’s famed tragicommedia, the archetypal protagonists repeatedly meet and part like the chafing heads of a fanciful chimera. The manhandled naïf and the lumbering brute aboard the motorcycle-wagon comprise the central condition (cf. Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel), an eternal tangle of elfin spirit and lumpish body until the quizzical trickster with glued-on angelic wings teases life one time too many. Throughout, Nino Rota’s melody embodies the parable’s plaintive unrest, variously hummed, played on a tiny fiddle, and blown on a forlorn cornet before it comes crashing down during the palooka’s flash of epiphanic horror. Quite the patch of pathos, a voyage about obvious and hidden beauty, a turning point for an artist increasingly beguiled by private mythologies. Eastwood (Bronco Billy) and Allen (Sweet and Lowdown) and Gray (The Immigrant) have their own versions.