Nights of Cabiria

Director: Federico Fellini

Italy-France| 1957. English subtitles. Black and white. 117 mins.

Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is a good-natured, eternally optimistic prostitute who lives and works in a wasteland on the outskirts of Rome. Dreaming of a better life, Cabiria ventures into the smart side of the city, where she meets a jaded movie star who dumps her when his girlfriend returns. Further humiliations follow— at the hands of other men, the clergy, and a hypnotist—but the irrepressible Cabiria survives them all.
Fellini’s marvellous ?lm effortlessly transcends the cliche of the ‘whore with a heart of gold’. In Masina’s unforgettable performance, Cabiria becomes a universal ?gure, as affecting and resilient a symbol of struggling humanity as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. At this stage in his career, Fellini still had some belief in the innate goodness of humanity and could therefore celebrate Cabiria’s brave smile in the face of adversity. Here, the balance of ‘realist’ and ‘fantasy’ elements seems perfectly suited to the ?lm’s suggestion that the quest for happiness may be a necessary illusion for survival in a harsh world.

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