“In my heart there is another version of La Strada where Gelsomina eventually finds her way, like Campion’s Janet Frame, and gets to feel how much we love her.” ““ Miranda July
Coinciding with its Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions exhibition, TIFF Bell Lightbox has put together a truly fascinating film program to further renew interest in the legendary Italian auteur. Fellini/Felliniesque: “Dream” Double Bills not only offers up the chance to see some of his best-loved works on the big screen and pairs them with similarly themed films by different directors, but does so according to choices made by such figures in the global film community as Atom Egoyan, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Deepa Mehta, Camille 2000 director Radley Metzger and TIFF Bell Lightbox’s own Artistic Director Noah Cowan. Thus, viewers are given the unique opportunity to consider a three-fold interaction of influences and interests, along the way learning how Fellini’s work has created different impressions amongst certain admirers.
One of the people asked to form a double bill was artist and filmmaker Miranda July, whose new feature film, The Future , will be hitting theatres this summer. She chose to join Fellini’s 1954 classic La Strada with Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table (1990), her three-part portrayal of acclaimed New Zealand author Janet Frame. At first glance, it seems as if you couldn’t find two more different films: in one corner, Fellini’s black-and-white travel movie that artfully mixes neorealist techniques with hints of the fantastical; in the other, Campion’s blue- and green-hued biopic chronicling an artist’s precarious path to widespread acclaim. However, as July’s explanation points out above, the films become quite strongly linked once one focuses on their central heroines. Though both separated by gulfs of time and geographical distance, Giulietta Masina’s childlike Gelsomina and Janet as played by Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh and Karen Fergusson at different stages of her life could easily be seen as sister figures. What primarily makes both women so complementary to one another is their shared qualities as outsiders and innocents, making them particularly vulnerable to the more malevolent forces at work in the world. In this regard, Lars von Trier’s work may come to mind ““ these are just the kind of virtuous, golden-hearted beings who continually fall prey to the Dane’s pompous, cruel he-wolves.
Yet even with kinder directors Fellini and Campion at their respective helms, Gelsomina and Janet both see their share of troubles. At the start of La Strada , Gelsomina is sold to traveling strongman ZampanÃ² (Anthony Quinn) and taken on a trying journey through postwar Italy, while Janet must push forward through the gauntlets of poverty, adolescence and, most disturbingly, a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia that nearly leaves her lobotomized in order to realize her dream of living and supporting herself as a writer. We continually see both women moving from place to place, seeking temporary shelters: for Gelsomina, one performance venue after another; for Janet, her family’s small dwelling, an aunt and uncle’s house she is banished from under embarrassing circumstances, a series of institutions and artists’ retreats, all leading up to a refreshing stint in Europe on a grant. And every step of the way, there is the unmistakable awareness that these characters are different from everyone else, put forth by the distinct qualities of their behavior and appearance ““ Gelsomina’s expressive little face is just as singular and unforgettable as Janet’s magnificent head of frizzy orange hair.
However, the differences between the two are striking. While Gelsomina is able to claim some personal revelations and triumphs for herself throughout La Strada , she is constantly suppressed by the brutish ZampanÃ². Janet, on the other hand, is more fortunate and, through her passion to write, displays a much greater degree of drive and purpose. That distinction, strengthened by Campion’s close, compassionate portrayal of Janet, seems like the most appealing factor that would make July want to have these two films shown together. As an inspiring ode to both the artistic life and women who are drawn to that particular road, An Angel at My Table is almost certainly a film of great importance to the multi-talented July and serves splendidly as a poignant alternative to Fellini’s heartbreaking parable.
La Strada will be playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, July 30th, at 4:15 pm, followed by An Angel at My Table at 7 pm. To see more of the double bills included in Fellini/Felliniesque: “Dream” Double Bills and find show times and ticket information, go to the program’s main page or tiff.net.