Circus life is the backdrop for this study in cruelty and humanity – an early masterwork by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.
Described by Fellini as ‘a complete catalogue of my entire mythological world’, La Strada (The Road) tells the story of Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), a young woman who is sold by her mother to the circus strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), replacing her older sister, who died whilst on the road with her captor. She becomes the clown in his act, attracting audiences with music, dance and comedy. But he is a cruel master. Joining a small travelling circus, Gelsomina gradually sees more of the world and clutches at the hope of freeing herself from Zampanò.
Fellini’s film was one of his most notoriously difficult shoots, both in terms of finding the funding and with the filmmaker struggling to achieve his vision. (He even had a nervous breakdown towards the end of the shoot.) Winner of the inaugural Best Foreign Language Academy Award in 1957, the film initially divided audiences, but is now seen as an artistic breakthrough for Fellini and is rightly regarded as one of his masterpieces.