|La strada was a break-out international hit for Fellini's wife, Giuletta Masina, who plays Gelsomina Di Constanzo.|
La strada (1954)
d. Federico Fellini
Criterion Collection #219
Federico Fellini is a core member of the Criterion Collection. In the United States, his name is/was typically invoked in the same way that people call something "Lynchian"(David Lynch) today: Having a surreal and/or grotesque visual quality. Criterion Collection is more concerned with showing the whole film maker than dwelling on Fellini's more extreme films. Satyricon, the most "Fellini-esque" of his films, does not even have a Criterion Collection release, and his early films which show is development as a neo-realist are heavily featured.
La strada is notable simply because it was Fellini's first international hit, and secured him an Audience (and funding) for his films for several decades. It also made a star of his wife, Giulietta Masina, who plays the mildly retarded Gelsomina Di Constanzo. At the start of the picture, Giuletta is essentially sold to Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a travelling strong man who was previously "married" to Giuletta's older sister. Anthony Quinn, an American actor, is a brutal, terrifying thug and we watch the situation go from bad to worse between the two of them, with Zampano unable to do anything save bully and cajole, and Gelsomina foregoing several opportunities to ditch Zampano in favor of making pathetic ( and failed) attempts to "win him over."
Considering the quality of the two lead performances, I'd say it's easy for a contemporary viewer to see what all the fuss was about, and La strada is certainly a good starting point for someone looking to "get" the work of Federico Fellini.