Nights of Cabiria (“Le Notti di Cabiria”)
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Pier Paolo Pasolini based on a novel by Maria Molinari
Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica/ Les Films Marceau
Repeat viewing; Criterion Collection DVD
#337 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.3/10; I say 10/10
Right before Fellini got deep into Fellini-esque territory, he made this heartfelt masterpiece. I love Giulietta Masina and this film.
Cabiria (Masina) is a prostitute with a weakness for the wrong guys. Despite supporting what seems to be a series of freeloaders, she has managed to buy her own little house and amass a small nest egg. Things begin to go wrong when her latest boyfriend snatches her purse and pushes her in the river where she is only just saved from drowning. She wonders why since she always gave him whatever he wanted. (Favorite line from her rant: “Go back to selling balloons!”).
Cabiria pulls herself together and goes back to trading insults with her friends and plying her trade. One night, she heads for the Via Veneto, usually off limits for such as herself, where she chances a meeting with a famous movie star who takes her home. She can’t believe her luck but ends up locked in a bathroom when the star’s lover appears to patch up a quarrel.
An encounter with a man distributing alms to the poor and the sight of a once well-off prostitute reduced to living in a cave inspires Cabiria to join friends on a pilgrimage to a holy site. One of their group seeks a miracle cure but Cabiria prays only that the Virgin help her to change her life. Later she takes the stage in a hypnotist’s show. While under, she reveals her essential purity and dreams of marriage. It looks like her prayers may have been answered when she meets an accountant afterwards who says he wants to marry her and doesn’t care about her past.
Everyone should see this movie so I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say that it is among the most moving in film history.
This is a movie about hope and survival. Maybe a bit like post-war Italy? Cabiria makes more than her fair share of mistakes and takes many more than her fair share of lumps but always comes out smiling. She is played with incredible delicacy by Giulietta Masina, who must have one of the greatest faces of any actress ever and who moves with the grace of Chaplin. (Her mambo is outstanding!) I love the combination of comedy and pathos and the ever-present social satire Fellini weaves in throughout. Add to that the Nino Rota score and you certainly have a classic for the ages.
Nights of Cabiria won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Masina won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. Cabiria later became a New York dime-a-dance girl when the story was remade as the Broadway musical Sweet Charity and its 1969 screen adaptation directed by Bob Fosse and starring Shirley MacLaine.