For all its sentimentality, this overshadows virtually everything Fellini has made since La Dolce Vita. As ever for il maestro, life is both cyclic odyssey and circus, a teeming, tragicomic arena of pain, cruelty and solitude. Masina plays Gelsomina, a naïve waif whose simpleton innocence provides a direct line to life's eternal mysteries; when she is sold into virtual slavery to play clown to itinerant strongman Zampano (Quinn), the boorish brute simply exploits his new assistant's desire for affection at every opportunity. It's basically a road movie: she vainly tries to escape, they join a circus, and her friendship with the tightrope-walking Fool (Basehart) brings its own problems. Despite the pessimism of much of the story, memorably embodied in the grey, desolate towns the pair visit, Fellini has already moved far from his roots in neo-realism; symbols, metaphors, and larger-than-life performances hold sway, and moments of bizarre if inconsequential charm abound.