Old 02-09-2009, 06:50 PM
Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

It's always a fascinating experience when watching Fellini do a character study. It has led to some of his most highly regarded films like "8½" and "La Dolce Vita." In "Nights of Cabiria," Fellini chooses a prostitute as his subject. We follow her on her journey as she tries to find happiness in a line of work that few people are ever truly happy in.

Maria 'Cabiria' Ceccarelli (Giulietta Masina) is a prostitute working hard in Rome. She spends her nights walking the streets, talking with her ilk including her best friend Wanda (Franca Marzi), and picks up clients whenever she can. We watch as she goes off with her clients, but they are not people who you would think would pick up a woman like Cabiria. As we soon find out, Cabiria has very bad luck when it comes to choosing men.

As a kind of character study, the main thing that was interesting to watch about this film was the development of Cabiria. The film starts off with her and a man running around on a beach. This is supposedly her lover, Giorgio. When he suddenly pushes her into the river, he runs off with her purse as she nearly drowns. However, when she gets out, she doesn't want to believe that it was Giorgio who pushed her in. She can't accept that the man she loved for so long would do that to her just for her money.

This begins her character's change as she becomes less and less trusting of people. The next client that picks her up is a famous actor, Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari). She has learned not to trust people so easily in her line of work, so it takes some coaxing to get her into his car. The two go out to a club, dance a little, then go back to his place for supper. Suddenly, Alberto's girlfriend, Jessy (Dorian Gray), shows up and Cabiria must hide in the bathroom all night. When morning arrives, Alberto gives her money and tells her to go. Her brief moments of happiness are over just as quickly as they began and now she must go back to reality.

From here, she begins to question her life as a prostitute as she and her friends go to a church to pray to the Madonna. The problem is, she doesn't know what to do there or how to ask for forgiveness because she has been at her current occupation since she was a little girl. Cambiria tells us that she has a strange feeling while at the church and the irony of having a group of prostitutes asking for mercy is more than clear.

In the second half of the film, there is an extraordinary sequence where Cabiria is at a magic show featuring a man who is able to hypnotize people. She reluctantly comes on stage when asked by the magician and after watching a group of men hypnotized into thinking that they are on a boat, the magician turns his attention to her. He hypnotizes her into thinking that she is in a garden with a man named Oscar. He is able to have her show her true inner self as she picks flowers from the imaginary garden and talks with the magician who is playing the role of Oscar. It is with this sequence that we are able to see Cambiria's gentle and loving nature; an innocence that shows that she is better than the type of work she has chosen.

Right after this show, she meets a man who claims his name is Oscar (François Périer). Could this just be a major coincidence or is it fate that these two should meet? He falls in love with her, but her reluctant nature prevents her from doing the same, at least right away. The more time they spend together, the more she starts to like him. To her, he is an angel who enjoys being with her, taking her out to dinner, and paying for everything. It is almost too good to be true, but knowing Cabiria's luck, it is.

After a wedding proposal from Oscar, she sells her house and almost all of her possessions in preparation. One evening, after dinner, he takes her to a secluded cliff near a forest to watch the sun set. However, Oscar has been acting rather cold and distant the whole evening. Cambiria quickly realizes this and suddenly realizes what is happening, because it has happened to her before. The film comes full circle to put Cabiria in the same situation she was in at the beginning of the film. She is in love with a man who has been pretending to be in love with her only to steal her money. After all her attempts at gaining forgiveness and trying to change her life for the better, she winds up right where she started from. We realize that she has the capacity to change, but we are unsure whether or not it will ever happen for her.

As with many of Fellini's films, particularly "8½," this one also ends with a processional, except on a smaller scale than usual. As Cabiria walks home, she meets up with a group of people playing music and happily marching down the street. She joins in and is even able to crack a little smile. Once again she must rejoin reality, but she is not beaten yet. There is still hope for her. 3.5/4 stars.
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