NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: FEDERICO FELLINI / SCREENPLAY: FEDERICO FELLINI, ENNIO FLAIANO, TULLIO PINELLI / STARRING: GIULIETTA MASINA, FRANÇOIS PÉRIER, FRANCA MARZI, DORIAN GRAY / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 6TH
Cabiria is a happy-go-lucky prostitute who struggles through life with a sharp quip and a jaunty Mambo. When her boyfriend steals her money and pushes her into the sea, she swears off love forever. But then she meets the seemingly kind-hearted Oscar, and despite her better judgement is swept off her feet. When Oscar asks Cabiria to marry him and persuades her to sell up her little house and join him in the city, Cabiria believes she is finally leaving the working girl life behind forever. But will it all work out happily ever after for our charming tart-with-a-heart or is fortune about to take Cabiria down another rocky road?
Anyone who’s seen the Shirley Maclaine musical Sweet Charity, which was filmed 12 years after Nights of Cabiria and is based extremely closely on Cabiria’s screenplay, already knows the answer to that question. What you might not be prepared for is how much darker and unsettling this version of the story is.
Nights of Cabiria is one of Federico Fellini’s most celebrated films, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a terrific confection, and Fellini’s pixie-ish wife Giulietta Masina gives a wonderfully rich, heartbreaking performance as the title character. There are some lovely vignettes in here, too: the night when Cabiria meets a surly matinee idol movie star, accompanies him to a ritzy nightclub and charms the stuck-up patrons with her plucky dance moves; the night when she follows a good Samaritan across the Roman countryside, watching him hand out supplies to the homeless people living in the caves, realising with shock that one of the recipients is an elderly woman she used to walk the streets with; the day when she joins a religious procession and asks the Virgin Mary to change her life, drowning her sorrows when she realises that everything remains the same; the evening when she visits a run-down theatre and is hypnotised by the stage magician, unconsciously showing her vulnerability to the entire audience, inadvertently finding romance when the show is ended. Masina is terrific, and it’s no surprise to learn that she based a lot of her performance on Chaplin’s tragi-comic Little Tramp, most notably during the nightclub scenes, that are suffused with comedy and pathos.
The BFI’s Nights of Cabiria Blu-ray, which is a 4K restoration, is beautiful and not to be missed. It’s a shame the special features are so measly, especially considering the position the movie holds in Fellini’s pantheon of masterworks, but that’s a small price to pay when the main feature is so enchanting. Bellissimo!