La Strada - The Film That Makes Me Cry

A bleak and windswept beach somewhere at the edges of postwar rural Italy. A family in abject poverty scratches out a living at the margins. Sweet and naive Gelsomina is sold by her mother into indentured servitude to the brutal travelling sideshow strongman Zampano, whose sole act is to break a chain he wraps around his chest. Using a whip, as if with a circus animal, he teaches her to play a snare drum and a battered trumpet. They embark on a folktale-like odyssey through a blasted landscape of freighted characters and abstract encounters and symbols.

Federico Fellini cast an immensely charismatic Anthony Quinn as the belligerent Zampano and his wife, the delicately clowning Giulietta Masina, as the saintly Gelsomina. Their gestural, expressive acting was more familiar in the silent era than the talkies. The foil for the central pair is “il Matto” – the Fool, a strange, giggling figure and talented high-wire act, speaking bald truths with a mischievous, skewed compassion. With his violin, the Fool (Richard Baseheart) also contributes one of the film’s exquisite musical themes composed by Nino Rota, whose score evokes the folk traditions of the rural poor.