Friday, January 22, 2010

Nights of Cabiria (1957)


Title: Nights of Cabiria (1957)

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Gulietta Masina, Francois Perier, Franca Marzi

In Rob Marshall’s recent tribute to Fellini and his films, Nine (2009) the main character of the film (who is a film director) is constantly reminded how everyone preferred his older films. Everyone tells him they love his “hits” before his films got all “weird”. As I continue watching all of Fellini’s films, I kind of see where this comment is stemming from. I find that the further back I go in Fellini’s filmology, the better his movies get. But this is also the case in many directors’ repertoires; their earlier work is their best. Don’t know if this is the case with Fellini because I’ve yet to see more of his earlier films as well as the ones he did near the end of his illustrious career. But as it turns out, Nights of Cabiria, his sixth film has turned out to be one of my personal favorites.


A lover of films lives for that day when he or she watches that true masterpiece. That film that shakes your emotions and makes you feel; reminding you that you are alive. These films are out there, it’s just that sometimes it takes us a while to get to them. But when we finally find them, you feel like the search was worth it. Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria is one of these special films. It’s such a powerful and moving experience! I must admit, it brought tears to my eyes! I wasn’t alone in letting the old waterworks flow either, its just such a heart wrenching film.


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?

As a Fellini film, this one has many of his trademarks. This one reminded me a lot of La Dolce Vita and Amarcord. We get Fellini’s trademark scenes of Italian nightlife, bursting with energy and people. Fellini loves doing this, suddenly, the streets are filled with cars, lots of people talking at the same time, people riding in motorcycles, people fighting, dancing, getting on cars and driving off. You know; lots of life. It also has the religious angle, with a whole procession of desperate people pleading to their deities for help. Crying to statues and effigies, all the while the main character watches and observes. He did this in La Dolce Vita as well, with Marcello Mastroiani in the middle of a bogus apparition of the Virgin Mary. On this film Cabiria walks into a magic show, a restaurant with exotic dancers and he even ends the movie with a parade of music same as in 8 ½. Fellini, just like any good director, liked to revisit certain key images and themes in his films; Cabiria was no exception.

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
 

14 comments:

Mr. Fiendish said...

love Fellini and love this movie

Neil Fulwood said...

I'd have to agree with you that, as a rule of thumb, Fellini's earlier movies are definitely his best (with 'Amarcord' proving a late-period high note). For me, Fellini reached a certain point in his career where he became his public persona, so instead of being Fellini directing a film he was Fellini directing what was expected of a Fellini film.

'Nights of Cabiria' works so well because all of those quinessential Fellini touches (which seem entirely natural here, not almost forced the way they are in some of the later films) gel beautifully with Masina's wonderful, heartfelt and very affecting performance. She really is the beating heart of this inspiring and memorable film.

Reina said...

Waooo! I want to thank you for showing me this movieee! It was soooo moving, beautifully acted,so fucking sad.WONDERFUL! I loved your review, and I would like to see many more Fellini's films, in the future to compare with the ones I've already seen! I feel like the other Fellini movies I've seen are great movies that I loved for reasons very different to the reasons why I totally loved this one; they're more fancy, artsy-fartsy, surreal,chaotic,etc, but I would NEVER imagine a Fellini movie would make me cry! And this one did! I went right to that my heart! I'll be a sucker for this film FOREVER! BRAVISSIMO FELLINI, BRAVISSIMO FRANCO,ARRIVEDERCI!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Fiendish: Im a fan too, this movie shot straight to the top of my favorite Fellini films.

@Neil: I know what you mean Neil, somewhere around Roma and Satyricon his films took a turn, they defenetly changed. Its a whole different Fellini. But that era has its attributes as well. I want to check out The White Shiek and Variety LIghts next. See what his beginnings were like.

@Reina: Im glad I could see it with ya babe! Dont worry, we will see more Fellini soon, theres quite a few that we havent seen, like the ones he made later in his career, during the 80's and 90's. In the words of Brad Pitt: Arri ve derch!

Bob Ignizio said...

Fellini is one of my favorite directors, and this is definitely one of his best films. It makes me sad that more Americans don't watch movies like this because they think they don't like movies with subtitles.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I hear ya Bob, but what can I say, its their loss. Im doing my job by talking about it. Im gonna recommend this movie to everyone I know as much as I can, it really is an outstanding film.

Its got so much emotion in it. Its the kind of movie that makes you invest in the character, so that by the time its almost over, you feel like youve gotten to know them. I literally felt Fellini playing with my emotions on this one, I was like "no man dont do that shit! Your not gonna do what I think your gonna do! Dont you dare you bastard!" It made me fear for a character, which is something very rare. Not every director can do that.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

Fellini is my favorite director, and though this isn't my favorite of his, what I liked about it was how it turned the Neo Realist paradigm on its ear somewhat. Instead of the nice old man Umberto D. and his little dog, we have Cabiria, the prostitute, and yet we're still rooting for her just as much. I liked I Vitelloni and La Strada better from his early stuff, but not by much.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Hey Matt, La Strada was awesome for me as well. Again, it makes you root for Masinas character but the Zampano character, what a douche bag. Yet at the same time, you sometimes feel pitty for his ignorance and his poverty stricken life.

Ive yet to see I Vitelloni, got it on my must watch soon list.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I had a new respect for La Strada after seeing the Scorsese intro on the Criterion DVD, and finding out that Zampano's character was his inspiration for a lot of his most memorable characters, like Travis Bickle.

I Vitelloni is one I think you'll really like. The White Sheik is more of a cute, fun movie, while I Vitelloni is closer to La Strada and Nights in Cabiria in terms of depth.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks Matt, Im gonna be checking out Vitelloni this week at some point.

Theres another dvd of his I think its the one for La Dolce Vita, where they have some directors talking about how influential this movie was to them, and it does certainly give you a new perspective, specially because we didnt live through the time when these films were originally released.

The dvd for Nights of Cabiria has an interview with Dino De Laurentis (the films producer) where he explains all about how he and Fellini had a difference about leaving a scene in the film...the scene with the man carrying the bag of food to the people living in the undegroud caves. Laurentis wanted that scene out and Fellini wanted it in.

Cool thing is that the scene is on the dvd, when it was first released, the scene was never on it! Gotta love those Criterion dvds!

Phantom of Pulp said...

For me it's always been LA STRADA and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. I love them equally.

Thanks for singing the praises of this masterpiece.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Hey Phantom, Nights of Cabiria and La Strada more then deserve it! I will be reviewing more Fellini soon!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@J.J. Wistfullness:

So yeah, about Nights of Cabiria and Fellini's films, yes, there's more films of Fellini's that will move you in the same way. If you haven't seen I Vitelloni, highly recommend it as well. I reviewed it a while back, so I urge you to check out that review.

Vitelloni and Amarcord have a lot of Fellini's memories of what it was like to grow up in Italy and be young, so thats the vibe that goes with those films. These are films filled with how Fellini remembers Italy and it's streets and it's people, they are also tales about growing up, and becoming an adult, coming of age films if you will.

The thing with Fellini is that while his earlier films are more sentimental in nature...as time went on the started getting more intellectual, and I guess you could say "cold" in a way, 8 1/2 for example is an amazing film that any film buff should see, it explores cinema, and the nature of movies while at the same time it explores relationships, the male and female and the dynamics between them. These are very different films then these earlier Fellini films, but not any less magical.

8 1/2 is certainly not without its magical moments. it has a more surreal vibe to it, we are always seeing the protagonists dreams, so much so that sometimes we don't know when he is dreaming or awake. There are moments in 8 1/2 that will completely blow you away in terms of how dream like they feel, and with 81/2 you'll see just how good Fellini was at creating these types of moments in his films. La Dolce Vita is also a magical/intellectual film, though that one is a bit tougher to grasp, yet no less fulfilling. It spans many themes and philosophizes a lot!

Roma and Satyricon, wow, those make for tough watches, these two particular Fellini films sometimes scratch on the incomprehensible...so I'd leave these for last, unless you enjoy films that are difficult to comprehend immediately, they still make for interesting films, but they have a more experimental nature if you ask me.

Hope these comments are useful! Thanks for reading!

J. J. Wistfulness said...

Thanks for the information Francisco, i really appreciate the fact that you took the time to write that, i think "8 1/2" and "La Dolce Vita" are both freely available on YouTube so i`ll start with those.

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