La Strada

La Strada is a perfect tragedy, no excess, the pure bones of life and death and love in the face of crushing impossibility. I saw it for the first time at Hamilton College in 1959 and staggered out into a cold winter night. The stars seemed to be saying, “That’s right, kid.”

Last night we watched it from the cozy quarters of a houseboat in Seattle. Pam hadn’t seen it. I think it was the fourth time for me, so I knew enough to lay in an extra bottle of wine. I can report that the movie has improved over 55 years.

The film cohered for Fellini when he drew a circle on paper and then saw his wife’s face within. She, Giulietta Masina, plays Gelsomina, using an utterly original blend of mime, kabuki, and dance to express undiluted emotion on a canvas of innocence. A small down turn of her mouth, her eyes open and still, rings a bell of anguish inside us.

Anthony Quinn, the brutal circus strong man, and Richard Baseheart, the subtle high wire fool, are also excellent. When Gelsomina cries, “The fool is hurt,” her heart breaking, your heart goes too. It is the gift of tragedy and of this movie that your heart heals stronger than before. And, down La Strada, should you get a little full of yourself, Gelsomina’s trumpet theme will sound and put your feet back on the ground.