Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a performer in a traveling carnival outside of Rome, purchases the young, poor Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) to be his wife and assistant. Although she shows genuine enthusiasm as an assistant, putting on a fabulous clown act akin to Charlie Chaplin, nobody seems to appreciate her; she quietly endures a life of emotional coldness and cruelty. When she meets "The Fool," Ilmatto (Richard Basehart), a quicksilver trapeze artist who befriends her and offers her warmth, kindness, and an uplifting vision of the world, Gelsomina convinces herself that she and Zampano are in love. She is plunged into despair, however, after Zampano interferes in a jealous rage, precipitating a tragedy that will haunt him forever. Federico Fellini establishes a style and certain key themes in this film that he repeats as trademarks in subsequent films: the beach as a symbol of purity and release; haunting, soft female singing as a symbol of memory; examinations of Catholics and their religion as a cult behavior; and, above all, a chaotic, circus-oriented cyclical pattern that guides his films. The Oscar-winning LA STRADA is the perfect place from which to begin an exploration of Fellini's expertly crafted movies.
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film 1956