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LA STRADA/ The Fellini film which is a favourite of Pope Francis

October Fri 25, 2013

Federico Fellini (Infophoto)  Federico Fellini (Infophoto)

Italian director Federico Fellini's 1954 Oscar-winning film, La Strada, has received some attention as Pope Francis' favorite film. "‘I identify with this movie, in which there is an implicit reference to St. Francis." The neo-realistic flick, based on recollections from the director's childhood in Rimini, a beach town on the Adriatic Sea, portrays a poor couple living on the road and passing a hat after offering a little entertainment. Although Fellini often claimed to have left home as a child to join the circus, he later retracted that and told of his experience working for a vaudeville troupe as a gag writer and touring the Italian countryside. "I was overwhelmed by the variety of the country's physical landscape and, too, by the variety of its human landscape."

From his fascination with the circus, he created the two characters for his story: a strongman and a little clown. Zampanò, played by Anthony Quinn, purchases a simple-minded girl, Gelsomina (Fellini's wife), from an impoverished widow with a passel of children who live by the sea. The entertainer had previously taken her sister on the road with him, who died, with no explanation to her family.

Zampanò has one pathetic act, breaking a chain across his chest, and Gelsomina is his Chaplinesque sidekick. The strongman is a brute, who beats Gelsomina, womanizes and drinks until he gets thrown out of the bar at night, never leaving without a fight. He lives from his body, without any joy of spirit or acknowledgement of his need for love. His new paramour moves from sadness to happiness like a cloud passing through the sky, and her face opens and closes like a flower in wonder or pain.

Despite her distress, she romps around as the carefree clown, entertaining the crowds and stealing off once to perform for a little handicapped boy who is confined to his room. Together the two embody the human condition of sin, need and hope. Although Gelsomina escapes from him once, wandering the town square, and Zampanò forces her to return, they depend on each other for sustenance and purpose as they journey through the bleak post-war landscape, which looks not unlike later post-apocalyptic cinema.

When they stop in Rome and join a circus, Gelsomina meets "the Fool", a reckless trapeze artist and Zampanò's old enemy. The Fool goads Zampanò, who spends the night in jail after pulling a knife on him. Although Gelsomina has a chance to leave again with her captor locked up, she waits for him.



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