[Film Review] Nights of Cabiria (1957)

Nights of Cabiria poster

English Title: Nights of Cabiria
Original Title: Le notti di Cabiria
Year: 1957
Country: Italy, France
Language: Italian
Genre: Drama
Director: Federico Fellini
Federico Fellini
Ennio Flaiano
Tullio Pinelli
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Music: Nino Rota
Cinematography: Aldo Tonti
Giulietta Masina
François Périer
Franca Marzi
Amedeo Nazzari
Dorian Gray
Aldo Silvani
Ennio Girolami
Leo Cattozzo
Mario Passante
Franco Fabrizi
Rating: 8.7/10

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA, Fellini sixth feature film, which marks that he has assertively reached the full-blown phrase in his creativity and sleight-of-hand at the age of 37, and anticipates the acme of his career, LA VOLCE VITA (1960) and 8 AND A HALF (1963). The story (with Pasolini inside the coterie as a collaborator), is a tale of woe about a roadside streetwalker Cabiria (Masina) in Rome, whose real name is Maria Ceccarelli.

In the opening long shot, we see Cabiria gambols with his beau on a Sunny day in the field near a river, and quick as lightning, he grabs her handbag and pushes her into the water. Cabiria is almost drowned, the same course of events will (almost) replicate itself in the arresting culmination, this time, with another suitor, a well-groomed but greasy self-claimed accountant Oscar (Périer). Why Cabiria hasn’t learn anything from her miseries? It is much easier to shoot out pointers in post-mortem, in fact, as we audience follows closely to these non-interrelated episodes of Cabiria’s experiences, her wretched destiny doesn’t strike more like a subjectively injudicious decision than a fusillade of flak targeting at the injustice of contemporary society and the worst of human vice.

Cabiria is petite, petulant and starry-eyed, apart from a narrow escape from death thanks to her dastard boyfriend, she is perfectly content in her own achievement, her self-reliant means of earning secures her a house of her own and some savings in the bank, even during her serendipitous “one-night-stand” with a famous movie star, Alberto Lazzari (Nazzari in his Erroyl Flynn suaveness), in his palatial villa, she is not ashamed of her bog-standard house. Only when she peers from the keyhole of the star’s bathroom when Alberto romantically reconciles with his trophy girlfriend Jessy (Gray), she realises there is something missing in her life.

A pilgrimage with other working girls jolts her out of her hard earned fulfillment, she transforms from a non-believer to a devotee, daydreams a miracle will bestow on her. After religious epiphany, next in line is prestidigitation, Fellini cunningly alludes to the collusion between them, religion seduces a simple soul and illusion brings her the undoing. In the hypnotic performance, a cynical Cabiria unwittingly reveals herself, the inner child, a love-longing Maria Ceccarelli, which instigates Oscar, a spectator in the audience to conspire his act. Since manifestly Cabiria is not an accomplice of the magician (Silvani), then her state-of-hypnosis is indeed real, which is boldly against the common savvy, and can be perceived as a further tactic to turn realness-and-illusion topsy-turvy, with the sudden arrival of a Prince Charming, willing to marry her and doesn’t want to know anything about her past, only with an ulterior motive.

Giulietta Masina, what can I say, such a godsend to her hubby, a force of nature can effortlessly entice a viewer to vicariously discern and undergo her character’s emotional trajectory, all the more she provoke immense sympathy along the way, the suspense-heightened final revelation is so gut-wrenching to watch yet it is completely captivating and emotive (bolstered by Nino Rota’s sublimely emotionally manipulative score). What a triumphant performance, Cannes’ BEST ACTRESS honour has never been so worthy!

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA won BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE in the Oscar race, a consecutive second win for Fellini after LA STRADA (1954), unlike its tragic protagonist Gesumina, also played by Masina, who succumbs to the hardship and abandonment, in the coda, Cabiria manages to squeeze a smile through her tears with a parade of people singing and dancing around her, like a phoenix back from the ash, the message is uplifting, she may be homeless and penniless, but she has a true friend Wanda (an ace Marzi, in her very naturalistic mien) to rely on, she can go on working the next day and start every from the scratch, what can not kill you only makes you stronger, girl! Such a potent feministic manifesto, one might not expect it from a Fellini’s creation.

Oscar 1957  Nights of Cabiria


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