Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just watched...

..."La Strada" directed by Federico Fellini.

I saw my first Fellini film when I was sixteen. I forget how I found out, but I became aware that KQED, our local PBS station was going to show “Juliet of the Spirits;” perhaps the commercial intrigued me. Seeing as it was certainly nothing that my parents were interested in seeing, I watched it on my little black and white television in my room. And my world was expanded, enriched and made better for it.

I became a Fellini fan then and there and have since seen many of his films, but with this viewing of “La Strada,” one of his earlier films, I realize that I have been a fan of the surreal Fellini, the Fellini who was greatly influenced by the work of Carl Jung (as was I—yes, I was reading Jung at sixteen). I have seen and loved “The Nights of Cabiria,” “La Dolce Vita,” “8 ½,” “Juliet of the Spirits,” “Satyricon,” “Roma,” “Amarcord,” “E la nave va” and “Ginger and Fred.” But I hadn’t really watched the Neo-Realist Fellini until I watched “La Strada.”

Italian Neo-Realism concerned itself with life among the poor and working class in the decimated climate of post-war Europe in the ‘50s. And “La Strada” certainly aligns itself with those concerns. It is a story that explores a mentally challenged young woman (played quite broadly—like Charlie Chaplin, as Martin Scorcese observed—by Giulietta Masina, otherwise known as Mrs. Fellini) who is sold by her mother to an itinerant circus side show performer called Zampano (played with flexible brutality by Anthony Quinn). The resulting tragic journey has a few tender spots along the way (thanks mainly to Masina’s stubborn optimism), but ultimately this is a dark story full of regret. The full import of the fate of these characters doesn’t sink in until well after the film is over.

(As an interesting aside, I recently read a book by Joris-Karl Huysmans called À REBOURS. Huysmans started out writing in the literary genre known as Realism, championed by writers such as Balzac, Flaubert and Zola and dedicated to showing the ugly and poor, but soon grew tired of the inherent limitations of subject matter and setting. He broke with Realism and wrote À REBOURS in the literary genre of Decadence, a style that valued artifice over any kind of interest in the natural world. The Gothic novel, French Symbolist poetry, and the work of Edgar Allen Poe were major influences. So I find it very interesting that both Huysmans and Fellini broke with genres that were only invested in showing poverty and squalor—and both called Realism—and gravitated toward something more fantastical and lyrical.)

Recommend? Yes. “La Strada” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1956.


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