Title: Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Gulietta Masina, Francois Perier, Franca Marzi
Gulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife) plays Cabiria, a prostitute working the streets of Italy. She is a happy jolly spirit in spite of the kind of life she lives. She is extremely poor, lives in the smallest little house in the middle of nowhere. She has to face men who do not appreciate who she is and are only looking to take advantage of her. But, she seems used to it and continues with her life even though she is not contempt with her current state of affairs. She is looking for a change; a way to leave the prostitute lifestyle behind. Will she ever do it? Will she ever find true love and leave it all behind?
The oldest Fellini film I have seen was La Strada (1954) also starring the great Gulietta Masina. In that film she also plays a poverty stricken individual looking for a way out. She ends up working for Zampano, an abusive man looking for a woman to be his slave. In La Strada Masina managed to make you care for her character through her portrayal of a charismatic and naive woman searching for happiness in this cruel world. I was just as moved by Nights of Cabiria and Gulietta Masina’s performance as I was by La Strada because Nights of Cabiria is similar to La Strada because its also about a good hearted woman in search for happiness even though life constantly denies it from her. For some reason, earlier Fellini films went more toward sentimental side of things, looking to pull your heart strings. As he progressed, his films got more existential, darker, and at times surreal. But his earlier work? Pure emotion! This film won the Academy Award in 1957 for best foreign film. And it won Gulietta Masina the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival that very same year. I consider it an important film in Fellini’s career because it’s sort of a transitional film between the sentimental films of his past like La Strada and the more socially conscious and personal films that came after like La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2.
One of the things that makes this movie so special is Gulietta Masina performance as Cabiria. This is one of cinemas most memorable and endearing characters. Fellini makes you fall in love with her because she is such a saint amongst sinners. She is a feisty spirit, but one gets the impression that this feistiness is just a façade she puts on as a way of protecting herself from the evil in the world. Truth be told, she is a very sweet soul and if you dig deep enough, her beauty as a human being emerges. She is happy go lucky, naïve and innocent. It’s no wonder life always ends up slapping her in the face. This naiveté goes in direct contrast with her profession as a prostitute. She “lives the life” as someone says in the film, yet she looks like a little girl, dresses in an awkward fashion and is small in stature. She is most of the time dancing, smiling and excited. Always looking at the lighter side of things even though she lives in pure poverty, yet she has got a sadness inside that she prefers to hide. And this is where the movie just grabs me. I’m a sucker for movies with poverty stricken characters. These films always get to me. And this is one of them, right up there in poverty with Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp. These are characters that are so poor, so desperate, that you cant help feeling sorry for them. One look at Gulietta Masina’s performance and there’s no doubt that theres some Chaplin in there. She’s got clownish movements and moves at times as if she was dancing to music, which doesn’t surprise because Fellini used to film his movies with music in the background. It’s one of the reasons why most of his films were dubbed.
Speaking of the movies themes, this one is all about Cabiria’s search for happiness. She is a character looking for change, a way out of poverty and prostitution. She doesn’t want to end up like her older prostitute friends; old and living in a cave or underneath a bridge. The movie makes a daring comment for the times it was made. Considering this movie was made in the ultra conservative 50’s and in Italy where Catholicism reigns supreme; I was surprised to see this movie bashing on religion so openly. But this theme was always a recurring one in many of Fellini’s films. He later revisited religion in La Dolce Vita. But on Nights of Cabiria, the main character learns a valuable lesson about relying on yourself to make things change in your life and not in some invisible magical force that’s supposed to make everything okay. The movie asks the question: Does praying really change or solve anything? Is anyone really listening out there?
In conclusion, Id like to let you guys and gals out there know that this is one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. It makes you truly care for its main character, to the point where you don’t want anything to happen to her. You actually fear for her at one point. Its amazing! I never thought a movie could make me care so much for a fictional character, but Nights of Cabiria did. After you watch it, it leaves a lasting impression on you. You will care for these characters and their lives. You will talk about them long after you see the film, and you will be reminded once again why you love movies.
Rating: 5 out of 5