Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

La Strada (1954, It.) (aka The Road)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

La Strada (1954, It.) (aka The Road)

In director Federico Fellini's romantic, tear-jerking drama and timeless modern-day spiritual fable about domestic/sexual abuse and oppression - it was the first-ever Academy Awards winner for Best Foreign Language Film (Italy); the very simplistic road film (Strada meant "road") that represented a break from neo-realism, told about the consequential interactions between three itinerant traveling performers: a simple-minded young female apprentice, an abusive strong-man, and a smart tightrope walker (a Fool); the film was essentially remade in Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy (1980) and Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown (1999):

  • the film's setting was war-ravaged Italy after the war

Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina)

Zampano (Anthony Quinn)

Gelsomina's Mother (Anna Primula)
  • in the film's opening scene, surly-looking traveling strongman and circus performer Zampano (Anthony Quinn) suddenly appeared on his motorcycle at the seaside family village of his recently-deceased female companion Rosa who died under his care; Rosa's impoverished widowed mother (Anna Primula) informed her naive, wide and saucer-eyed young daughter Gelsomina (director Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina) that Zampano was asking to 'purchase' her (for 10,000 lire) to replace Rosa as his acting companion and partner; the grieving mother encouraged her daughter to leave with him: ("You can learn something, earn money and we'd have one hungry soul less to feed. Zampano is a kind man, he'll be good to you. You will see the world, learn to sing and dance")
  • the simple-minded, free-spirited waif and gamin Gelsomina (described by her mother as "a little bit strange"), who had up to this time lived a simple life, was reluctant, but had no choice but to accept the arrangement; when Zampano was asked if Gelsomina would learn something, he bluntly responded: "Sure, I can teach things even to a dog!"; Gelsomina tried to make the most of it: "I'll become an artist, will dance and sing like Rosa"
  • the main act of the itinerant, brutish street-performer Zampano as he moved from town to town was to break an iron chain wrapped around his bare chest with his "lungs of steel", accompanied by a sensationalist build-up to paltry spontaneous audiences: ("There is a danger that a vein bursts and I spit blood!"), and his warning words to the faint of heart: "Those, who have weak nerves, should better look away. It could bleed!"

Gelsomina Learning to Play a Tambour/Drum

The Clownish Apprentice

Zampano's Strongman Act
  • as Zampano's vagabond companion and acting-accomplice, the simple-minded elfin Gelsomina was taught to preface his street act with music; he abusively brandished a small tree switch and struck her on the ankles when she persistently misquoted his introductory lines; he also forbid her to sleep outdoors, and demanded that she sleep with him inside his tented 'truck'
  • afterwards during his muscleman act and comedy routine, she wore a black bowler-derby hat and sad-clowned costume (with an oversized coat, floppy shoes and pants, resembling elements of Harpo Marx, Harry Langdon, and Charlie Chaplin's the Tramp character), played the trumpet and beat on a tambour (snare drum), and entertained audiences by dancing and participating in a comedy skit with Zampano; she was expected to pass a hat for small donations; over time, Gelsomina's pantomime act became more popular than Zampano's own routine, and she drew crowds
  • one evening, the very trusting Gelsomina felt devastated, heartbroken and betrayed (with amazing facial expressions) when a drunken and callous Zampano drove off with a red-headed prostitute (Giovanna Galli) and abandoned her - she was left stranded and helpless on the side of a street; she found him the next morning sleeping it off while parked at the edge of the city at some sandpits; the rootless and unconnected wanderer Zampano was intimidating and indifferent and wanted to move on when she proudly showed him tomato seeds that she had planted in the Earth; he asked: "You want to wait for the tomatoes to grow?!"
  • later, she asked if he treated her the same as he had with Rosa: "You did it the same way with Rosa?"; he blurted back for her to shut her mouth
  • at the site of a wedding party, Gelsomina was led by small children into the upstairs of a building where a very ill, bedridden, disabled boy named Oswaldo was kept locked away and isolated; she was encouraged to make him laugh: "Make him laugh a little" before being shooed away
  • while they were fed during a wedding feast, Gelsomina and Zampano struck up a conversation with embittered widow La Vedova (Marcella Rovere); when the party ended, they were preparing to sleep in a barn where Zampano continued to deflect probing questions about his life when Gelsomina again asked about Rosa: "She worked the same like me?" - he ignored her futile attempts to communicate
Gelsomina's Rebellion Against Zampano

Gelsomina in a Hole in a Barn

Climbing Out of the Hole

"I Go Away"
  • she proceeded to slide into a hole in the barn where they were sleeping, and finally decided to rebel against him; she announced her decision to leave him: "I go away - Back to my village. I don't like it here with you anymore! It's not because of the work: I like this work. I like being an artist! But I don't like you!" - she marched off
  • while sitting by the side of a road, she saw a threesome of uniformed musicians that led her into a nearby town where she became exhilarated when caught up in a religious procession-parade in progress; they propelled her along toward another street performer's act on a high-wire tightrope by Il Matto ("The Fool") (Richard Basehart) who was seen high above the crowd 40 meters in the air above the plaza eating spaghetti
  • later that evening, Zampano tracked her down, and forcibly ordered her back into the truck ("Get in"); and when she refused ("No, never!"), he grabbed and beat her into submission in order to comply; soon after, they came upon a ragged-looking traveling circus (known as "Giraffa" with strong community togetherness, headed by Il Signor Giraffa (Aldo Silvani)), where the film's three main characters came together as non-salaried performers working only for tips; Il Matto was first seen by Gelsomina playing a tiny violin under a ragged circus tent
  • a compulsive, feuding conflict immediately developed between the mindless Zampano and the taunting and witty Il Matto (who couldn't help but recklessly tease, antagonize and insult Zampano); Zampano was provoked into brutality during his strongman performance, and in a furious rage, he searched for Il Matto afterwards and threatened: ("You'll have enough of your dumb jokes!")
  • afterwards, during Zampano's absence, Il Matto rehearsed with Gelsomina by teaching her a new act - playing a trombone while parading around in a menage; the bossy and bullying Zampano returned and forbade any further contact with Il Matto: ("She's not allowed to work with this vagabond!... Because I want it that way!"); after being doused with a pail of water, the oafish Zampano responded with violence; he angrily drew a knife and chased after Il Matto; Zampano was handcuffed and briefly jailed by police, and both men were permanently fired from the circus
  • the owner of the circus offered Gelsomina to live with the traveling circus ("You can come with us"); when Il Matto asked why she would remain with Zampano, instead of staying with the circus: ("Why you won't run away from him?"), she answered: "I tried already, but I can't"; she said that it would make no difference wherever she decided to go: ("Nobody needs me. What for do I live?"); she cried in despair: "Why am I born to this world?"
  • Il Matto proposed that she come away with him: "And if I'll offer you to come with me, I'll teach you to become a rope-dancer. High above, in the spotlights! I've got a car, we can drive around, we'll have a lot of fun!", Gelsomina rejected Il Matto's offer of freedom from Zampano; he realized that she had been abusively threatened with physical violence: "You have to stay with Zampano, to be involved in all his stupid things and let him hit you like a donkey! That's life"
  • when Il Matto suggested that she had stayed with Zampano because he liked her: ("Maybe he likes you?"), Gelsomina brightened up with the idea, as he summarized for her: "If you won't stay with him, who else will?"; she interpreted his notion that her rightful place in life was to remain with Zampano

"Every existing thing, is here on purpose..."

"And you, you're good for something as well..."

Gelsomina with the Pebble-Stone
  • in the film's most significant scene, Il Matto presented his own philosophy of life, that everything on earth - people, animals and even inanimate objects - existed for a specific and particular purpose (similar to the teachings of St. Francis) - to convince Gelsomina of her own life's worth: "....For example, this stone here...It's here for some reason. And this little stone...I don't know for what that stone is good, but it has got its function. Or everything would be meaningless. Even the stars. That's, what I believe at least. And you, you're good for something as well. With your artichoke-like face"
  • she repeated the idea that no one else could be with Zampano: "And if I won't stay with him, who else will do?" - and that she would remain with him; the next morning, Il Matto drove Gelsomina (again imprisoned in the back of Zampano's truck) to the jail so she could be there to greet him when he was released; The Fool gave her his necklace as a souvenir before walking away
  • Zampano was surprised to see her, and her dedication when she told him as they waded at the seashore: "Now my home is with you"; but then, when he claimed that he had saved her from her family's poverty: ("You're better with me"), she realized his callous brutality and blurted out: "You're an animal! Nothing in your head!"

Hitchhiking Nun: La Suorina

Gelsomina Playing the Trumpet With Her Signature Melody

Gelsomina With Nun - Who Admired Her Dedication to Zampano
  • on the road, Zampano gave a ride to a nun named La Suorina (Livia Venturiniand) and took her to a monastery just before a cold rainy evening; they were able to stay one night in a barn when Zampano lied that Gelsomina was his wife; the nun was entertained by Gelsomina's playing of a trumpet with her signature melody; the nun observed that Gelsomina's selflessness and pure dedication to Zampano for many years were comparable to her own sacred service to God: "We both are travellers: She follows her God, I follow mine"
  • but then in a stunning exchange later that evening, when Gelsomina asked Zampano to marry her: ("Now I'm ready even to marry you. We'll stay together. Even a stone is good for anything"), he turned his back on her and told her to stop thinking about things: "There is nothing to think about"; when he refused to respond to her questions, she began playing her trumpet and he commanded: "Stop it!"; the next morning, Gelsomina waved a knowing and heart-felt goodbye to the nun - who had just invited her to remain at the monastery [Note: This was Gelsomina's 3rd opportunity or offer to depart from Zampano that she refused: (1) the circus family, (2) the Fool, and (3) the Nun.]
  • after leaving the monastery, Zampano's truck came upon Il Matto fixing his broken-down car's flat tire on a rural road; during a brutal brawl between the two, Il Matto suffered severe head injuries, complained about his broken watch (a symbol of his life's end) and then collapsed dead next to the road; to cover up the crime, Zampano dragged Il Matto's body (in a crucifix pose) and dumped it in a creek and then pushed his car off a bridge (with a fiery crash); they were now on the run from the law and a predictable prison term for Zampano
  • traumatized by Il Matto's (The Fool's) demise, for the next ten days, the lifeless, mute, soul-injured Gelsomina couldn't perform in the sideshows, wouldn't eat, was fearful of Zampano, and only kept repeating: "Il Matto, he feels bad"; when Zampano realized that Gelsomina was no longer profitable to him and possibly "crazy," he abandoned her while she took a short nap outside - leaving her with blankets, the clothes she was wearing, some money, and the trumpet
  • four to five years later, Zampano was working for the traveling Medini Circus; while walking in town, he heard the same unforgettable song that Gelsomina often played on the trumpet - it was being sung by a woman hanging up sheets; he was told that the woman's father had taken in the feverish, sickened, mute and a "little bit crazy" vagabond (Gelsomina) after she had left the circus and was found near the beach; the woman had often heard her play a trumpet, but then Gelsomina became severely ill and didn't wake up one morning

Glancing Up at the Heavens

Grasping at Sand in His Hands
  • in the tragic film's conclusion (a parallel to the opening sequence's setting), the stony-hearted Zampano was finally emotionally affected (with grief or remorse?) by the news of Gelsomina's death; after his dull and uninspiring strong-man performance in the circus, he became drunk in a bar, was thrown out, brawled against four men outside, and stumbled alone to the seashore in the darkness while yelling: "I want to be alone. Alone!"; there, he waded into the edge of the water, fell onto the sand, looked up to the heavens, broke down into tears and vainly grasped at the sand that slipped through his fingers

Gelsomina's Departure with Zampano in His 3-Wheeled Motorcycle-Driven Truck

Strongman Zampano Performing For Small Crowds

Gelsomina Applauding Zampano's Act

Sleeping with Zampano Inside His 'Truck'

Gelsomina's Question to Zampano About Her Sister Rosa: "You did it the same way with Rosa?"

Strange Confrontation - Gelsomina Entertained a Disabled Boy

First Upward View of Tightrope Walker Il Matto ("The Fool") (Richard Basehart)

Il Matto Playing a Tiny Violin In a Ragged Circus Tent

Zampano and Gelsomina: Workers in the Circus

Il Matto Wearing Wings, a Silver Hat and a Bumblebee Tights Costume

A Despairing Gelsomina to Il Matto: "Nobody needs me. What for do I live?...Why am I born to this world?"

Il Matto: "Maybe he likes you?"

Gelsomina to Zampano: "You're an animal!"

Zampano's Rejection of Gelsomina's Proposal of Marriage

Gelsomina's Sad Goodbye Wave to Nun

The Fool with Severe Head Injuries and Broken Watch

The Death of the Fool

Gelsomina: "Il Matto, he feels bad!"


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