Nights of Cabiria (1957)

A Fellini classic featuring Giulietta Masina with arguably her greatest performance, this spirited tale of a prostitute who desires to change her life is at once heartbreaking and life-affirming. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,583

Dir. Federico Fellini
1957 | Italy | Drama | 117 min | 1.37:1 | Italian
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Giulietta Masina, François Perier, Franca Marzi
Plot: A woman, Cabiria, is robbed and left to drown by her boyfriend, Giorgio. Rescued, she resumes her life and tries her best to find happiness in a cynical world.
Awards: Won Best Actress , OCIC Award – Special Mention & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Won Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Joy & Sadness of Life; Resoluteness in a Cynical World
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Winning Best Actress for Giulietta Masina at the Cannes Film Festival with arguably her greatest performance, Nights of Cabiria is also one of Federico Fellini’s finest films. 

A favourite of many, Masina’s Cabiria (who first appeared in a ‘cameo’ in Fellini’s early work from 1952, The White Sheik) is a prostitute who has saved enough money to own a small little hut that she calls home. 

Nearly drowning in a river after being conned by a lover, Cabiria is given a new lease of life when she becomes acquainted with a stranger after a magic show. 

This show is a set-piece on its own, a showcase of Fellini’s wonderful ability to mystify and conjure up the sublime with theatrical artifice, as well as Masina’s effortless command of the screen with just her facial expressions. 

Hers is a face of many wonders and mysteries, and her smile is at once heartbreaking and life-affirming, a duality that would characterise the tone of the picture. 

“Madonna, Madonna, help me to change my life. Bestow your grace on me too. Make me change my life.”

There is a strong desire for Cabiria to want to be a better person, with Fellini taking pains to stress the importance of religious faith for her (and for many of her friends in the same profession) who are desperate for a change of luck. 

Nino Rota’s music, ever so hummable and with a tinge of ironic optimism, gives Nights of Cabiria a sense of chafed spiritedness, much like Cabiria’s bubbly if sometimes caustic personality. 

More importantly, the film is about resoluteness—the will to have faith, the will to carry on, and perhaps the will to let go when expectations are upended. 

With a second Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film (after 1954’s La strada), Nights of Cabiria very much cemented Fellini’s reputation as one of Italy’s most prominent cultural figures. 

His next two films, La dolce vita (1960) and (1963), would go on to win the Cannes Palme d’Or and another Oscar (!) for Best Foreign Language Film respectively.     

Grade: A




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