Nights of Cabiria

I often feel like I don't quite know what to say about Fellini films. I always like them, but I seem to be at a loss for words after I see them. Today I watched Nights of Cabiria, directed by Federico Fellini in 1957. The poster I found for it is pretty goofy, but somehow, it conveys the personality of the main character really well. However, it makes it look like way more fun of a movie than it really is - the plot is often sad, but in a good way, of course.

I sort of put off watching this movie all day because I didn't have much ability to focus. I was doing errands and making sure that everything for my project is operational (checking what movies are on instant, making sure my queues are in order, etc), something that I actually hope to write about later this weekend. There is a lot of work that goes into this project that I've never mentioned! Despite my procrastination, I really ended up enjoying this movie. I loved the character of Cabiria. She seems really unique and occasionally strange compared to the other characters, but it feels like that's just her quirky personality, and she's comfortable with it.

The movie is about Cabiria, a prostitute working in Rome. She is a tad strange - a bit of an off-beat bounce to her step, a little loud and excitable, a little clumsy and melodramatic. Ebert writes that she reminds him of Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp character, which I agree with. She seems just a little different from everyone else, but she never tries to fit in. I really liked her because of this. Cabiria owns her own little house, but she wants a miracle. She wants to fall in love. However, it seems unlikely. The film starts with her then-boyfriend trying to drown her and running off with her money. She needs...something in her life. Maybe religion? It doesn't seem to give her anything. A man named Oscar who seems too good to be true notices her when she is hypnotized on a stage one night, and they both fall in love with each other. Or is Oscar just another weirdo, looking out for only his own interests?

I actually did not know, until I read Ebert's essay, that Cabiria was played by Fellini's wife. While watching the movie, I felt like the camera really was enamored with Cabiria. She was shot so carefully, and always at flattering angles. Her performance felt real, and made it clear that although her behavior was sometimes odd, it was just how she was. It was really interesting to read that it was Fellini's wife, and it made some sort of sense to me. Her acting seemed so genuine, and it was neat to see that the camera's fascination with her was real as well. It was an infectious feeling. When I first started watching the movie, I was at times weirded out or annoyed by her character, but as it went on, I was really drawn to Cabiria - to her pride and her unique personality.

Since I'm just learning about Fellini through this project, I tried to look for similarities between this movie and some of the others that I have seen. I remember reading that he loved circuses, and often used images or music that reminded him of them. I thought of this a few times - the stage show with the magician, and the famous last scene of the film. In that scene, young people are partying it up, but Cabiria is crying. They play music, dance, and sing around her, until she begins to smile, despite her tears. It felt like a sort of parade, which I have seen in other Fellini films like 8 1/2.

Of course, as Ebert mentions, this movie is hugely similar to his later film La Dolce Vita. The plots are very much the same at many points, but the perspective through which they are told is different. There are visual elements as well, which he points out, writing, "And both have, as almost all Fellini movies have, a buxom slattern, a stone house by the sea, a procession and a scaffold seen outlined against the dawn. These must be personal touchstones of his imagination" (Great Movies II, 306). And, like all Italian films made during this time, the dialogue is dubbed in later. I forgot that Anthony hadn't watched any Fellini films with me, and at one point wanted to know why some guy's mouth was moving but no sound was coming out. It can be a little jarring, but it was the style at the time.

I'm starting to sound  a little like Grandpa Simpson ("We wore an onion on our belt, as it was the style at the time...") which makes me feel like I should wrap this up. I really loved everything about this movie. When I started watching Fellini's films for the first time for this project, I kept feeling like maybe there was an "order" or "way" that I should go about watching them. The more I see of them, however, I find that I'm still able to understand his style and the evolution of his style, no matter what order I see the films in. I fell in love with Cabiria, and I really liked that the film was still a little gritty and realistic, despite being quirky and fun.

Like I said before, it's certainly not a happy film, but I was glad that it dealt with how difficult and awful it can be to be a sex worker (unlike say, Pretty Woman, ugggh).  I liked that even though there was sadness, Cabiria showed that she was still strong, or at least had a strong guard up, which I think can be admirable sometimes. I just liked her a lot (enough that I debated with Anthony if I could wear socks and cute sandals, too), and  the whole look and feel of the film felt familiar, which was fun. I like that there are so many consistencies in Fellini's style. There is something fun about seeing them now, like going back to a place I've been before, enjoying the familiarity but finding something new each time. And in a way, I guess I am - going back to his imagination, over and over again. :)

Have any thoughts on Nights of Cabiria? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Nights of Cabiria
Buy it or rent it on Amazon

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