La Strada (Fellini, 1954)

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I’ve always preferred Fellini’s early, lyrical films over the outlandish and fragmented later ones. Masterpieces Nights of Cabiria and La Strada remain essential, even transcendent films obsessed with bridging the most potent aspects of Neorealism with Fellini’s unique brand of comical tragedy. It’s no coincidence both star the amazing Giulietta Masina (also Fellini’s wife of some 50 years), whose melancholy and whimsy define the resonant themes of each story. Specifically in La Strada, Gelsomina’s(Masina) smile, her tears, even her trumpet engage post WWII Italy in ways seldom seen since, tearing the heart out of an angst-ridden nation unable to grapple with her naiveté and child-like innocence. It’s simply impossible not to be moved by the final musical notes whispering on the ocean wind as Zampano (Anthony Quinn), realizing his brutishness has been a meager mask for his inadequacy, crumbles to the sand destroyed with regret. Gets me every time.