Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini



My Hall of Fame


There are some people who want to be loved so badly, they’ll tell themselves anything just to keep going. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is one of those people. Nights of Cabiria (1957)In the opening moments of Federico Fellini’s moving, and at times, heartbreaking masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), we witness from afar, as Cabiria laughs and runs with her boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi). Frolicking together, they wind up standing, side by side, next to a fast-moving river, staring into its beauty and mystery. It is during this moment of peacefulness that Giorgio grabs Cabiria’s purse and pushes her into the water, knowing full well that she can’t swim, and leaving her to die, all for a handful of cash. After being saved by some children nearby, Cabiria returns to her home and argues with her friend (Franca Marzi), that somehow it was just a mistake- she fell, and being scared, he fled with her purse, but surely he will return to her soon. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Her desperation, and the desire to be loved by someone- anyone, is almost too much to endure.

If this opening five minutes seems a bit painful, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse. You see, Cabiria is a prostitute, and not a high-class one at that. She earns her living by having sex with people, any of which she would stay with forever, if only they’d show her any real affection (or for that matter, even some fake affection would suffice). Unfortunately for Cabiria, each one of her encounters is as meaningless as the last, fulfilling their needs, while leaving her empty. She is, quite possibly, the saddest character ever to grace the screen. Seriously, somebody just hug the poor girl! What is surprising is that despite her past, she continues to hope that love is waiting just around the corner.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

“Nights of Cabiria” is one of the best films of all time for many reasons. It’s crafted perfectly by one of the world’s greatest directors, shot on location around one of the greatest cities in the world, and has a story that manages to touch its viewers in a way that is both comforting, and oddly unsettling at the same time.Nights of Cabiria (1957) The greatest thing about this picture, however, has nothing to do with any of that. “Nights of Cabiria” is great because of Giulietta Masina and her intense, no holds bar, tour de force performance. Everything lives and dies with her, and how she manages herself on-screen. And it’s not just her character’s sadness that makes this performance incredible. It actually has more to do with her ability as an actress to move, in a very real way, between emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, passion, and joy. She jumps between them all, keeping the audience enthralled, crying with her as she prays for a better life, and then laughing as she walks directly into a glass door. It is a performance that includes a bit of everything, and is one of the greatest Nights of Cabiria (1957)of all time. It embodies a similarity in its heartbreaking effect to Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Life of Oharu” (1952), but Cabiria’s upbeat outlook leave this film with an optimistic feeling that is a stark opposite to Mizoguchi’s harrowing tale.

I believe that “Nights of Cabiria”, even with all of it’s popularity, gets overlooked because Fellini made so many monumental films in his career. It’s stuck in between “La Strada” (1954) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), with “8 1/2” (1963) coming just a few years later. When any artist creates that many “masterpieces” in such a short span of time, it’s easy for one (or some) of them to become overlooked (even if just slightly). “Nights of Cabiria” isn’t as flashy and obvious as these other classics, yet somehow it is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because it’s the most relatable. Or maybe it’s Masina’s performance. More than likely, however, it’s the simple fact that there are few things as touching and poignant as a lost soul looking for love, and having the upbeat attitude to believe that she will one day find it…somewhere.

10 thoughts on “Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini

  1. Danny says:

    This is actually my favorite Fellini by a country mile, and I think you really hit on its finer points. It’s so heartbreaking and yet full of hope at the same time. And that ending just kills it, too.


  2. Joel Bocko says:

    Totally agreed. This was my first Fellini, and remains my favorite. Such a rich, warm atmosphere, poignant yet funny story, and brilliant performance by Masina. You summed it up well.


    • Paul says:

      Looking back now, if I had never seen a Fellini film, it would be hard to decided the best place to start. This sure would be a great “first Fellini” movie. “Nights of Cabiria” is my favorite, and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who enjoys this film so much. Thanks for coming and reading!


  3. The Lady Eve says:

    “Nights of Cabiria” and “La Dolce Vita” are the two Fellini masterpieces that I can watch again and again and again. “Cabiria” is the ultimate showcase for Giulietta Masina’s great talent. She’s irresistible – so sympathetic, she breaks your heart.


    • Paul says:

      So much of the film depends on Masina’s performance, and she delivers beautifully. She is an underrated talent that deserves more praise for her work.


    • Joel Bocko says:

      I actually feel the two films are interesting mirror images of one another (I think Ebert may have written about this once, so I may just be cribbing his idea). Both films episodically chronicling Roman nights of our protagonist – I think even certain events mirror one another – like the “false miracle” in La Dolce Vita and the disappointing pilgrimage in Nights of Cabiria. There’s even that guy who picks Cabiria up and makes love to his someone else – similar scene to the beginning of La Dolce Vita except there we don’t see it from the prostitute’s perspective. Obviously, Cabiria and Marcello travel among different social classes, but probably the biggest difference is that at the end Cabiria still has heart and hope while Marcello seems to have given up on a meaningful life. That girl calling out to him across the the beach always makes me think of Cabiria.


      • Paul says:

        I think I did read something similar to that years ago, and I’m glad you bring it up again. What a wonderful double feature the two film would make. Examining their similarities, and the subtle nuances would be extremely intriguing. That is, as long as the room is filled with those who appreciate Fellini in general. You’ve made today one that will surely be filled with reflection-perhaps tonight might be a good time to revisit “La Dolce Vita”.


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