Nights of Cabiria

Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Original Italian title: Le Notti de Cabiria

On the whole, I tend to watch movies with aliens, or zombies, or lots of explosions -- or even exploding alien zombies, given half a chance.  Every now and then, however, I convince myself that I should branch out and watch something with a little more depth to it.  I start looking through the foreign movie section, at artistic movies, movies with culture.  (Hey, they're foreign, that's automatic culture points, that is!)  On my last visit to my Amazon wishlist, I bought a few box-sets of movies by French and Italian directors.  I also discovered that one of the movies contained therein was also listed independently.  Obviously, at some point, I had read something that convinced me I really wanted to see that movie.

And who am I to argue with my Amazon wishlist?  The movie in question was Nights of Cabiria, by none other than Federico Fellini; a name I certainly knew, but I can't say I'd seen any of his work.  Now I have!

Warning: this review may contain spoilers.

Nights of Cabiria opens with a young couple in love, running playfully down through scraggly grass to the river's edge.  She is swinging her purse almost dangerously -- I kept expecting it to catch him under the chin.  What I didn't expect was for him to grab the purse, push her into the river, and run off.  Unable to swim, swept away by the fast-flowing waters, the young lady might have drowned if not for the intervention of a few people along the riverbank; she is dragged out, purged of water, and revived.

She is Cabiria, a loud, brash, somewhat naive Lady of the Night (ie, street-walker (ie, prostitute)) and she has apparently been a one-client girl for the recent past.  Her client, the guy who stole her purse and left her to die, was Giorgio.  Her purse -- for reasons never explained -- contained 70,000 lire.  Her best friend Wanda manages to convince her that, yes, Giorgio really did push her in, and no, it wasn't all some crazy mistake, and no, he's not coming back.

The movie follows Cabiria (whose real name is Maria) through a series of episodes of her life -- a life she desperately wants to escape, but nothing ever seems to change.  She lives in her own -- I hesitate to use the word "house"; her place is little more than a besser-block shack in an industrial wasteland -- and spends her nights on street corners with Wanda and her small group of fellow "working girls".  She is perpetually knocked down by fate, but she resolutely continues to pick herself up and keep on going.

She meets a famous movie-star one night, watches as his girlfriend dumps him, and gets taken back to his place -- but the hoped for brush with fame evaporates as he locks her in his bathroom when his girlfriend returns.  She spends the night on cold tiles -- but at least, when he sneaks her out in the morning, he has the decency to pay her for her time...

A trip to the Shrine to the Madonna follows, as Cabiria and her friends pray for forgiveness.  Cabiria herself prays that her life will change.  Cabiria's friend's pimp's uncle ('s father's former room-mate) prays that he might be healed, that he will no longer need his crutches.  He stands without his crutches -- and promptly falls on his face.  Cabiria ends the day by getting blind drunk, crying that nothing has changed, and starts screaming at a passing flock of nuns.

Out walking one night, following a shortcut that proved to be anything but, she meets a man with a sack who brings food and supplies to the homeless people who live in the caves -- one of whom is a woman Cabiria knows, a woman who once lived in a fine house, whose riches have evaporated.  Is this a foreshadowing of Cabiria's own future?  Or simply a result of living in post-War Italy?

She ventures into a cabaret house where a stage hypnotist drags her up onto the stage.  Heckled by the crowd, she shouts her defiance at them: "I own my own house!" she declares.  The hypnotist puts her through a tender, romantic routine, a dance with the invisible "Oscar", and when she snaps out of her trance she flees the jeering crowd, mortified, not knowing what she has done.

When finally leaving the theatre, she is approached by a man, an accountant, who claims he has been entranced by her purity, by her memory of her innocent teens when she "had long black hair, down to here."  His name, he tells her, is Oscar.  Can he see her again?  Wanda does not share her excitement, but Cabiria is swept off her feet by love.  She meets him again, and again, and finally he proposes to her.

She is leaving her life!  She is getting married!  Thrilled, she bids farewell to Wanda, she sells her "house", she empties her bank account, and she meets Oscar to travel ... away!  She meets Oscar with her life's savings -- all 750,000 lire of it -- in her purse.  And Oscar takes her, and her purse, for a long walk into the woods.  To watch the sunset.  From the top of a cliff...

I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this movie -- but on the whole, I think I liked it.  Cabiria herself is played wonderfully by Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife, but don't let that throw you off; she can act!)

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