La Strada: Neorealist Sad Song of the Road

La Strada, meaning The Road, is yet another Italian neorealist masterpiece by Federico Fellini. Made in 1954, this typical neorealist film travels with the protagonists on the road and captures real essence of life through the lives of people on the streets who have to struggle to survive.

It is also one of the most poetic and colorful film of the Italian neorealist era . There is no starkness – black and white, good and bad. All three main characters of the film have different personalities and shades and all of them are in a way victim of their own circumstances, their egos and their own flaws.

La Strada is essentially a poignant tale of optimistic Gelsomina who tries in vain to cope up with cruel realities of life with melody and optimism but in the end harsh reality breaks her spirits.

Gelsomina (role played by Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina) is a young innocent girl who is sold by her parents to a travelling gypsy, Zampano ( Anthony Quinn) who makes a living by entertaining people on the road with his stunts. He trains her with brute force to play drum and trumpet and play the clown. He is a brutish slave master and Gelsomina tries in vain to flee but fails.

She meets another street entertainer, another clown, ll Matto and bonds with him inspite of  Zampano’s disapproval. ll Matto tries to inspire Gelsomina to come out of her slavery and find her own individual identity and purpose. But Gelsomina asserts that her purpose is to take care of her slave-master and tags along Zampano willingly.  But along the journey on the road Zampano ends up killing ll Matto. This act kills the spirit of Gelsomina and she is shell-shocked by grief. Zampano abandons unresponsive Gelsomina and goes away.

After few years Zampano hears someone singing the tune often played by Gelsomina on her trumphet and learns that a family had taken in sad Gelsomina but could not heal her broken spirits. Gelsomina died playing her tune over and over again. She left behind her trumpet and the tune. This news breaks heart of  brute slave master Zampano who for once loses control and cries.

The Italian neorealist films did prove that life and reality is complex, colorful but sad. If there is optimism there has to be disenchantment. But these films also depicted that it is the optimism that also makes life poetic, lyrical, poignant and magical.

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