Cannes Classics 2020: Federico Fellini’s ‘La strada’, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and the concept of “existential time”

Posted on July 25, 2020

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If you wanted to break the film down along the lines of motive and meaning, then you could say that the title (Italian for “the road”) refers to the road of life. We are all wanderers, and the point is to have some purpose…

This is the centenary year of Federico Fellini’s birth, and film festivals have been programming the legendary director’s work. The Berlinale screened the relatively obscure Il Bidone. (I wrote about it here.) And now, La strada (1956) — not just one of the most famous of Fellini’s films, but one of the most famous art-house films of all time — will be screened as part of Cannes Classics 2020. The Cannes Film Festival cancelled its physical edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, so this year’s selection of Classics will be showcased at the Lumière Festival in Lyon (October 10-18) and the Rencontres Cinématographiques of Cannes (November 23-26).

In case you haven’t seen La strada, it’s about a strongman named Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) who exhibits his strength at circuses and fairs. His most famous routine is to wrap a thick iron chain around his torso, and snap it by expanding his chest. Of course, he hypes up the act to his audience: “To do this, I must fill my lungs with air like a tire. A vein might burst and make me spit blood. Once, in Milan, a 260-pound man lost his eyesight doing this. The optic nerve has to do all the work, and when you’ve lost your eyesight, it’s all over. Any sensitive members of the audience may want to look away.”

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