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Restored by HFPA: “La Strada” (1954)

As part of its significant philanthropic effort over the last three decades, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has helped to endow the restoration of over 138 classic films. The latest beneficiary is Federico Fellini’s 1954 film La Strada, restored by the Film Foundation with funding from the HFPA.

Regarded as the lauded Italian director’s break with neorealism, the movie survived a difficult production and notoriously contentious premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Eventually, it won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, in 1957, following its release in the United States.

Rooted in an exploration of both melancholic mood and details of personal reminiscence from Fellini’s adolescence, La Strada tells the story of sensitive, simpleminded Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife), a country girl whose mother sells her off to brutish traveling strongman performer, Zampanò (Golden Globe nominee and Cecil B. deMille Award winner Anthony Quinn), who has already managed to drive Gelsomina’s sister Rosa to death.

Zampanò treats her cruelly but Gelsomina remains devoted to him. Things change after she meets Il Matto, or the “Fool” (Richard Baseheart), a clown and high-wire artist who delights in antagonizing Zampanò. As the trio shares time in a ragtag circus, what develops is less a love triangle than a tragic series of roads not taken — of better life choices shunned by all parties.


Anchored by evocative cinematography from Carlo Carlini and Otello Martelli, the result is a film balanced between bleakness and optimism, uniquely capturing post-war central Italy — stylish and personal but, also, possessing extraordinarily heartrending and true-to-life contours. The movie enjoyed considerable praise, especially as years passed, and critics like Roger Ebert would come to regard it as a conduit of self-discovery for later Fellini masterpieces like La Dolce Vita and Amarcord.

A recent premiere of La Strada’s painstaking revitalization, on the Film Foundation’s Restoration Screening Room virtual platform, showcased the full beauty of the movie’s 4K restoration from a dupe negative located by its German co-producer, plus an original negative soundtrack. The event also included a slate of additional video interviews, which played like special bonus features and added perspective to its restoration, confirming just how hugely influential the film is.

La Strada is a very important film — it’s still so emotional, so strong, it has such truth to it,” said Golden Globe winner Martin Scorsese in his short interview. “I saw it first when I think I was 10 years old or so. I remember seeing it on television. That film was so big, it was shown throughout America dubbed in English. Because you had Anthony Quinn’s real voice and you had Richard Baseheart’s real voice, it kind of straddled worlds — it became international.”

Recounting some of the personal time he spent with Fellini as they became friends, Scorsese continued, “He was entertaining and outrageous. He would always make up stories. You never knew what was kind of real or not. One interesting thing about La Strada he told me, when we were having dinner in 1990 or ’91: he’d gone to Japan to receive an award and Mr. Akio Morita, of Sony, took him to a special dinner to show him something. Morita took out a little silver disc, put it in a machine and, suddenly, there was La Strada: glorious, pristine, clean. So, he liked the idea of DVD.”

In a much longer interview, Gian Luca Farinelli provided a technical perspective on La Strada’s restoration. An author and the director of the prestigious film archive Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, Farinelli has, during his two-decade tenure there overseeing the restoration laboratory, supervised hundreds of such projects.

“It was a longed-for restoration because La Strada is definitely a masterpiece — not only among Fellini’s films but also in the history of cinema in general. I think it has left a mark in the life of all who have seen it,” Farinelli said. He noted that this film was, perhaps, the most difficult of Fellini’s to restore because of the challenge of finding the best materials, then cleaning and scanning them to 4K in a way that didn’t alter the filmmaker’s delicate intentions. “The paradox of digital is the ability to produce something ‘better’ than the original, and thus betray some aspects which are crucial to the dynamics of cinema shot on film,” he said.

In yet another interview, director Alice Rohrwacher recounted first seeing the movie as a teenager in school. “I can say that it was a shock for me.” A smile mirrored her intense reflection. “I mean, all of a sudden I felt that I was much more of that film than of my class. Despite the very bad viewing — as you can imagine, on a small TV set, in a classroom without complete darkness, with light entering through the windows and noises of the class all around — it blew me away. It captured me and charmed me and saddened me in such a way that I felt I couldn’t go back. I felt I belonged to that world. It’s one of those films for which it was love at first sight.”

“Every time I see it, I feel tormented by the desire of knowing those characters,” Rohrwacher continued. “The film tells the story of these wanderers but also shows an Italy which is very different from the country I live in now. It’s Italy after the war, which was cruel but also sweeter.”

Established in 1990, the Film Foundation is a fellow nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation of culturally significant motion pictures. It collaborates with both film studios and independent archives to properly care for and restore films, which are later made accessible through museums, universities, and film festivals all over the world.

The HFPA’s partnership with the group extends back to 1996, with grants that have helped fund specific restoration selections like the one of La Strada, as well as broader Film Foundation undertakings such as the World Cinema Project and The Story of Movies initiative.