Favorite Films 🎥: La Strada (1954)

One of these days, I’ll take a match and set fire to everything.

La Strada

Year: 1954

Director: Federico Fellini

Country: Italy

Cast: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, and Richard Basehart

Score: Nino Rota

Cinematography: Otello Martelli and Carlo Carlini

Streaming: Criterion Channel and HBO Max

Why I Love It: Giulietta Masina, who stars as the simple-minded and tender-hearted Gelsomina, was one of those rare performers who make you forget that the worlds they create are fiction. At the beginning of the film, Gelsomina learns that her sister Rosa has died while traveling with Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), a coarse and somewhat thuggish sideshow performer. Because her mother has other young children to feed and they all appear to be on the brink of starvation, she sells Gelsomina to Zampanò for 10,000 lire, and so begins her journey on the road.

Giulietta Masina, who stars as the simple-minded and tender-hearted Gelsomina, was one of those rare performers who make you forget that the worlds they create are fiction.

La Strada is not your typical Bildungsroman. Gelsomina’s narrative arc is not centered around some destination or goal that she spends the film pursuing. Instead, we see her find tenderness and beauty everywhere, no matter how cruelly Zampanò treats her or how desolate the landscape becomes.

I won’t spoil anything by telling you how the film ends, but I will warn you to make sure you have plenty of tissues handy. La Strada is indeed a journey, and it reveals much about the human condition to those patient enough to sit with it.

La Strada is indeed a journey, and it reveals much about the human condition to those patient enough to sit with it.

Also noteworthy is the gorgeous score by Nino Rita. Usually, cinematography is something I like to discuss more so than scores, but I have a deep and abiding passion for Nino Rota. In addition to La Strada, Rota collaborated with Federico Fellini on several other films, as well as with Fellini’s rival, Luchino Visconti. Other works of his include scores for Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1967) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), the latter of which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score (shared with Carmine Coppola).

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Favorite Films 🎥: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Year: 1928

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Country: France

Cast: RenÊe Jeanne Falconetti, Eugène Silvain, AndrÊ Berley, and Maurice Schutz

Cinematography: Rudolph MatĂŠ

Streaming: HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV

Why I Love It: Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s performance as Joan of Arc is one of the most moving in cinematic history. This silent masterpiece is full of startlingly intimate close-ups in which Falconetti’s face is the only thing in your field of vision. Because there’s no audible dialogue, she has to convey everything in her performance through movement, through her facial expressions—everything is an exercise in the theater of the body.

Because there’s no audible dialogue, she has to convey everything in her performance through movement, through her facial expressions—everything is an exercise in the theater of the body.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is the first silent film I can remember bringing me to tears. At times it is painful to watch, but films like this one are the reason cinema is its own art form. For the true cinephile, the Criterion Collection edition is a must. Along with numerous other extras which add depth and context to the viewing experience, Criterion’s home release comes with two different presentations of the film: the traditional 24 frames per second and another at 20 frames per second.

Also noteworthy is the expressionistic lighting used by cinematographer Rudolph MatĂŠ, who later immigrated to the United States and became a director and producer as well. His cinematography credits during his career in Hollywood include such films as Dodsworth (1936), Stella Dallas (1937), Love Affair (1939), and Foreign Correspondent (1940), among many others. You can clearly see the influence of his earlier work in European Expressionism in his later work in American film noir.

You can clearly see the influence of his [MatĂŠ] earlier work in European Expressionism in his later work in American film noir.

How does one begin the process of classifying superlatives in art? Once you start drawing lines of demarcation and establishing hierarchies, it is inevitable that some works just as worthy as those classified as “The Greatest” will be pushed to the margins, relegated to the corners—all but forgotten. But then again, if everything is great then nothing is great.

Once you start drawing lines of demarcation and establishing hierarchies, it is inevitable that some works just as worthy as those classified as “The Greatest” will be pushed to the margins, relegated to the corners—all but forgotten.

So we have experts. We have aestheticians. We have people who spend their entire lives studying one particular subject so we can go to them when we need a professional’s opinion. As in science, so in art. We look to the learned, the credentialed, and the eloquent. We look outside our own limited experiences and perceptions for something that rings true.

We look to the learned, the credentialed, and the eloquent. We look outside our own limited experiences and perceptions for something that rings true.

Why did I say all that? So I could then say this: The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the greatest films of all time. So say the film scholars, the cineastes, the commentators, and the iconoclasts. And so say I. Don’t trust me. See it for yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first post in my new series. Check back soon for more of my Favorite Films.

Further Reading

Out of Darkness: The Influence of German Expressionism by Matt Millikan

Suffering the Inscrutable: The Ethics of the Face in Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ by Chadwick Jenkins

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.