Strictly Film School
site infodirectorsgenresthemesimageryJournalNotes

La Strada, 1954
[The Road]

QuinnLa Strada is Federico Fellini's moving masterpiece that explores the soul's eternal conflict between the heart and mind. Zampano (Anthony Quinn) is a cruel, traveling carnival strongman who buys his assistant, a simple minded young woman named Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), from her poverty-stricken family. Gelsomina is innocent and childlike (Masina's exquisite performance is as comic as it is heartbreaking). She does Zampano's bidding without question or resistance, even though he is abusive to her. He abandons her in the street to spend the night with a woman. He lashes her with a tree branch when she misquotes her introductory lines. He forces her to steal from a convent. Yet, she remains faithful and uncomplaining. It is a relationship akin to Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: inasmuch as one resents being with the other, there is also a realization that one needs the other. But soon, their fragile relationship is disrupted when Gelsomina meets The Fool (Richard Basehart), a witty circus clown. He mercilessly taunts the oafish Zampano, who can only react with violence. Nevertheless, he is kind and reassuring to the gentle, suffering Gelsomina, offering her a means to leave Zampano. It is the rivalry over her that precipitates the film's inevitable tragedy. La Strada is one of Fellini's most accessible and humane works, a film of understated beauty and profound insight.

The theme of a soul torn between the heart and mind is prevalent in Fellini's films. Visually, he uses the imagery of a man suspended between the earth and sky (In the opening sequence of La Dolce Vita, a helicopter transports a statue of Jesus Christ). Note the upward camera angle used to film Zampano's inane chain trick. The crucifix is prominently held aloft during a vigil procession. The Fool is first shown on a tightrope, performing his high-wire act. The effect is subtle; the implications are devastating. There is no triumph in such a struggle for the soul, only consequences, and a resignation to the pain of existence.

© Acquarello 1997. All rights reserved.

| DVD | VHS | Home | Top |

Il Bidone, 1955
[The Swindle]

CrawfordA bishop and a priest are chauffeured to the rural home of two peasant sisters. They recount the story of an unnamed man who has made a deathbed confession of burying a treasure chest along with a murdered victim by a tree in the middle of their property. The confessor has bequeathed the hidden bounty to the landowners, in exchange for 500 masses to be held in his memory. It is a fantastic tale that is made plausible by the seeming benevolence of the two clergymen. But these men are not emissaries from the Catholic Church. An earlier scene shows the middle-aged Augusto (Broderick Crawford) and the younger Carlo (Richard Basehart) (who goes by the nickname Picasso) preparing for the confidence game, as the charismatic Roberto (Franco Fabrizi) switches license plates. The unsuspecting sisters have just surrendered their life savings to a band of career criminals. And so the ritual of their existence is revealed: posing as housing officials, selling worthless watches, bartering inexpensive coats for money and a full tank of gasoline. Augusto has grown weary of his profession, but has never known any other life. One day, he encounters his daughter, Patrizia (Lorella De Luca) on her way home from school. She wants to become a teacher, but can neither afford the tuition, nor pay the deposit required to earn a decent wage to fund her studies. Augusto is clearly devoted to her, but can only make empty promises of support. While spending the afternoon with Patrizia at a movie theater, he is recognized by one of his nameless victims, and is promptly sent to jail. Separated from his daughter, he returns to the familiarity of his disreputable trade.

The second film in Federico Fellini's trilogy of loneliness, IL Bidone is a poignant and heartbreaking portrait of an aging man's redemption from a life of crime and deception. Thematically similar to the subsequent film of the trilogy, La Strada, Fellini portrays Augusto's internal conflict through separate characters: the idealistic Carlo who aspires to make an honest living as an artist, and the hedonistic Roberto, who searches for opportunities to be included in every deceptive scheme. As in La Dolce Vita, Fellini uses the recurrent imagery of elevation to symbolize the soul torn between personal conscience and decadent materialism: Carlo calls his devoted wife, Iris (Giulietta Masina), who waves back to him from their upper floor apartment; Augusto, Carlo, and Iris ascend the stairs to attend a New Year's Eve party organized by a career criminal who has amassed his fortune from the art of the swindle; an injured Augusto attempts to scale the side of a hill. Inevitably, it is Augusto's love for his daughter that paradoxically condemns and redeems him. IL Bidone is a haunting examination of a misguided existence, a profoundly moving testament of the innate goodness of the human soul.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

| DVD | VHS | Home | Top |

Le Notti di Cabiria, 1957
[Nights of Cabiria]

MasinaNights of Cabiria is a touching, humorous, and poignant film about hope and survival. As the first film of the trilogy of loneliness, Federico Fellini pares the story of an endearing prostitute searching for love and happiness down to its fundamental substance. The result is a social criticism that is honest, impartial, and searing. We first see Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) walking by the lake with a lover who steals her purse, then throws her into the water. It is a familiar pattern with the hapless Cabiria: men who exploit her, then abandon her. She is not morally bankrupt, but deeply spiritual, interminably optimistic, and trusting. She attempts to project an image that she is confidently in control. Yet, we see that she is a victim of circumstance. She resorts to prostitution as a means of income in an economically depressed city. She is duped by pilgrims professing to witness a miracle. She is denied an evening with a celebrity when his girlfriend unexpectedly returns to reconcile. Nights of Cabiria is a simply told, profoundly affecting film about the misery of existence, and the triumph of the human spirit.

MasinaThe imagery of water is a prevalent theme in Fellini's films. It is the symbol of catharsis (as in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue) and eternity. (In Fellini's La Strada, Zampano returns to the tranquil cadence of the sea after a heartbreaking revelation.) In Nights of Cabiria, the film begins and ends with water. It is an imagery that illustrates that life, itself, is cyclical - eternal - as the human condition. Water is also a symbol of purification. Cabiria's soul remains untainted, despite her sordid profession (a theme that echoes the works of such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gustav Flaubert, and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others). It is a humanist idea that people are innately good, but forced by their circumstances into acts of desperation (a familiar neorealist theme). The result is a powerful metaphor: a fusion of hope and misery, perseverance and suffering, a synthesis not unlike life itself.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

| DVD | VHS | Home | Top |

La Dolce Vita, 1960
[The Sweet Life]

Mastroianni/EkbergFew films have indelibly defined society as caustically and honestly as Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a frustrated writer, is reduced to tabloid journalism in order to make ends meet. He spends every evening in Via Veneto - the venerable hotspot for people who want to be seen - vicariously awaiting the next scandal, party invitation, or sexual proposition. One evening is spent with an enigmatic woman named Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), whose dark sunglasses conceal a bruised eye. Her declared love for Marcello is merely whispered from a distance, deflected by the reverberating walls. Another evening is in Steiner's (Alain Cuny) penthouse, a wealthy intellectual. Consumed by self-doubt and fleeting happiness, he is unable to enjoy his success. Still another evening is spent with a famous actress named Sylvia (Anita Ekberg). With the advent of dawn, she, too, returns to home to her boyfriend. Away from the nightlife of Via Veneto, he finds himself caught up in the carnival spectacle of a false sighting of the Virgin Mary (an episode that is also recounted in Nights of Cabiria). Soon the empty evenings seem to weave together into some decadent rhythm, punctuated only by the regret of the following morning. Fellini visually conveys the cycle through stairs: the descent to a prostitute's flooded basement apartment, the climb to a church tower, the walk to a public fountain, the exploration of an unoccupied section of the princess dowager's estate. Thematically, the film begins and ends with the same incident: Marcello, unable to hear the cryptic message, returns to his latest distraction... perhaps still dreaming of attaining the elusive sweet life.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

| DVD | VHS | Home | Top |

8 1/2, 1963

8 1/2 weaves fluidly through the visually intoxicating landscape of Federico Fellini's subconscious, seemingly to seek inspiration and validation for his life and work. In an opening scene that symbolizes much of Fellini's films, a suffocating man, trapped inside his car, inexplicably begins to float into the skies, only to be abruptly tugged back to the ground. But it is also an indelible image that shatters any preconceived illusion of "typical" elements in a Fellini film. The film, 8 1/2, literally marks Fellini's work on 8 1/2 feature films (the "1/2" derived from collaborative direction films), and proves to be a transitional film in his artistic career. In addition to being his final film shot in black and white, the subtle forms and religious iconography of his earlier neorealist films have been replaced by precisely composed, comic absurdity and exaggerated, hyperbolic imagery - of what was to become his signature, Felliniesque, style. His alter-ego on this surreal, introspective journey is Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a successful director of films "without hope" who takes a holiday at an exclusive health spa in order to overcome a creative dry spell. But Guido is not a suffering, tortured artist. He is narcissistic and self-indulgent, preferring to spend his time networking with wealthy resort patrons and arranging liaisons with his oversexed mistress, Carla (Sandra Milo) than in formulating ideas for his next film. In fact, Guido's words prove hypocritical and contrary to all his actions. His creative retreat is spent surrounded by people who are most familiar with him: his mistress, his wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee), his producer (Guido Alberti), and several actors who want to appear in his film. He claims to be in the process of creating a simple film that "would bury all that was dead" between Luisa and him, but approves plans to construct an elaborate movie set for a science fiction film. He supplements his mineral water treatments with cigarettes and alcohol, leading a life of excess instead of undergoing physical (and psychological) cleansing and purification. Unable to derive inspiration from his chaotic environment, he immerses himself in the distraction of childhood memories and indulgent fantasies: conversing with an emotionally inaccessible father; reciting the magic words to a hidden treasure; sneaking out of class to watch the carefree Saraghina (Eddra Gale) perform a sensual dance; attempting to tame the women in his life using circus props. In essence, Guido is searching for balance: between childhood traumas and idealism, the sensual and the intellectual, artistic integrity and commercial success. Inevitably, Guido is as much a reflection of Fellini as he is of ourselves: striving for greatness, only to achieve the ordinary and familiar... with episodes of momentary abstraction in between.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

| DVD | VHS | Home | Top |