Federico Fellini’s first films as director demonstrated a gradual progression away from the 1940s neo-realist movement with which, as a screenwriter for Roberto Rossellini, he had become associated. His fourth feature, La strada, tells of a young innocent, Gelsomina, sold as a performing assistant to an itinerant circus strongman. Eagerly learning the ropes, Gelsomina is repeatedly beaten down by her thuggish master as they tour the towns of central Italy.
Fellini films this battle of wills with precise attention to the detail of downtrodden streets, bars and roadsides, capturing a pungent feel of travelling life. Yet the tragedy of this simple stray, played for Chaplinesque pathos by Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina, goes beyond realism into the realms of parable – encouraged by a wistful score from Nino Rota.