Nights of Cabiria (1957)

CabiriaDancingIt may sound tiresome, pretentious, obnoxious, whatever, I don’t care: Fellini’s La Strada is one of my all-time favorite movies. Maybe it’s even in the number one slot, if one were interested in putting numbers on such things. After I saw it for the first time, I thought to myself a) Federico Fellini’s a badass and b) Giulietta Masina is one gosh-darn amazingly charming actress. I wanted more, and I got it with Nights of Cabiria.

Here, Masina plays Cabiria, a prideful prostitute who draws from a never-ending well of optimism despite the constant disappointment she experiences in her life. The film opens with her and her boyfriend Giorgio, playfully chasing each-other near the water’s edge. One sidelong glance from Giorgio, and the audience knows what Cabiria CabiriaStarstrucknever learns throughout the whole film: the guy just wants her money. Giorgio snatches her purse and pushes her in the water. Far too proud to admit she’s been taken for a ride, Cabiria moves forward, onto the next tragedy, and the next, and the next…

It is both heartbreaking and inspiring to see Cabiria repeatedly stepped upon and resurrected. Admittedly, at a certain point I wanted her to curl up and die, because I couldn’t bear to see her go through another rejection. Cabiria is a perpetual victim, both of external predators and internal flaws; her pride in particular is constantly clouding her judgement, causing her to do bad things, make the wrong decisions, and trust the wrong people.

Optimism can be exhausting.

Optimism can be exhausting.

Through it all, Masina’s wonderful face expresses a thousand emotions all at once. One minute she’s dancing, and the next minute she’s trying to beat the hell out of a rival prostitute. The skepticism in her eyes can quickly turn to adoration, then sadness. I could watch her all damn day. This movie is a must-see in big, block letters, in no small part because of Masina’s performance.

Prior to watching Cabiria this time around, I told Q that it was more depressing to La Strada’s sad. I’m not really sure that’s true, anymore. Sure, it is depressing to think of a world filled with predators waiting to pounce on the wide-eyed, but it’s much sadder to think of optimism crushed by the world around it. As Cabiria’s optimism never dies, ultimately, this film might just be uplifting.



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