NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (Notti di Cabiria, Le)

(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriter: Ennio Flaiano/Tullio Pinelli/Pier Paolo Pasolini; cinematographer: Aldo Tonti; editor: Leo Catozzo; music: Nino Rota; cast: Giulietta Masina (Cabiria), Francois Perier (Her lover, Oscar D’Onofrio), Amedeo Nazzari (The actor), Dorian Gray (Jessy ), Aldo Silvana (The Magician), Franca Marzi (Wanda), Ennio Girolami (Amleto The Pimp), Mario Passante (‘Uncle’ The Cripple), Franco Fabrizi (Giorgio); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dino De Laurentiis; The Criterion Collection; 1957-Italy-dubbed in English)
“Straightforward depiction of a lonely woman’s desperate plight and inability to deal with evil and conniving men.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’ (“La Strada”/”La Dolce Vita”/”8 1/2”) better films. It’s shot in the neo-realism style of the time in Italy and is a pretty straightforward depiction of a lonely woman’s desperate plight and inability to deal with evil and conniving men. Bob Fosse remade it 1968 as both a Broadway and Hollywood musical called Sweet Charity. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign film. The film stars Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife, who was 35 at the time) who plays it as if she were Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. She’s the beaten down waif-like wide-eyed Cabiria (her name as a whore), the good-hearted but defiant prostitute who has a bank account, dwells in a shack just outside of Rome in the poor part of town, and dreams that she can change her life through a miracle and find an ideal mate and respectability. Though broken in spirit, she always has the will to get back on her feet. It plays out as an impassioned adult Cinderella fairy-tale story.

In the opening scene Cabiria walks with her boyfriend Giorgio along the river bank and he pushes her into the water and steals her purse containing 40,000 lire; she would have drowned if some local children didn’t rescue her. Soon afterwards, she runs into a number of escapades that make her become disillusioned with life. On the Via Veneto she’s knocked over by meeting a famous movie star (Amedeo Nazzari ), who takes her to his mansion but dumps her when his girlfriend Jessy returns after their spat. Hoping for a miracle to change her empty life, she attends with her frumpy prostitute friend Wanda, pimp Amleto and his crippled uncle a local shrine at a Catholic Church, where she seeks the Madonna’s intercession. When nothing changes in her life afterwards, she attends alone a vaudeville stage show and gets hypnotized on stage by the charlatan magician (Aldo Silvana). He has her believe she’s met her dream lover, whom he names Oscar, and has her reveal her pure romantic feelings. After the show, someone in the audience claiming to be an accountant, as lonely as she is and coincidentally named Oscar (Francois Perier), begins a timid old-fashioned romance with her that ends in two weeks with his marriage proposal. The final shock comes when she learns he wants to kill her for her money, as she just sold her house and brought along her withdrawn bank book as a dowry.

It works so well, despite its sentimentality and shameless pandering to the viewer’s heartstrings, mainly because of Masina’s masterful performance as the gullible childlike eternal optimist even though life is harsh; it’s a heart-wrenching melodramatic performance that could bring tears to a stone.

In the newly restored 1999 version, it restores over seven minutes censored by the Catholic Church after its Cannes premiere, that has Cabiria’s meeting with a stranger delivering food packages to the poor. It seems the Church didn’t want anyone else getting credit for giving charity to the poor, especially a prostitute.