Wednesday, August 13, 2014
NIGHTS OF CABIRIA
(October 1957, U.S.)
In the Spring of 1999, I heard about people playing hooky from school and work to go see the new STAR WARS film (whether or not it was worth it depends on one's own opinion of the film). In the Fall of 1997, I actually faked illness to leave work early so I could catch a revival screening of Federico Fellini's NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Sound weird to you? I suppose it was, but then again, I spent much of the 1990s living in Manhattan and soaking in as much foreign cinema as I could. In 1997 alone, I discovered much of Fellini's best work for the first time both on video and revival screenings, including 8 1/2, LA STRADA, LA DOLCE VITA and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Much of this was due to my former employer at the time who was a true art film buff and was constantly giving me film recommendations (thanks, Steve!).
Because of my love for much of Fellini's black and white artistry, it's a wonder this guy (ME!) who's never yet been to Rome, Italy doesn't only imagine that great city in black and white. That's simply how I've repeatedly seen it through the eyes of perhaps the greatest Italian filmmaker of all time. Watch many of his films, and you'll see a consistent fondness for memories that meant so much to him, including postwar Rome, movies, religious training and even local prostitutes. Yes, I suppose if you live close enough to get to know the local hookers as a child, the memory stays with you. It's that focus on prostitutes that focuses this story on Cabiria (played by real-life wife and muse Giulietta Masina), a rather happy-go-lucky hooker who, like many of us in life, is simply looking for love in all the wrong places. From the moment we're introduced to her (actually, if you really know Fellini's films, you'll know that her character is first introduced briefly in a previous film called THE WHITE SHEIK), she's immediately getting the short end of the stick when she's robbed and nearly drowned by the man she thinks loves her. So what's a girl to do after she's done being pissed off? Roll up her sleeves, get back to hooking on the streets and try to stay focused on the joys of life, whatever they might be. Cabiria is seemingly the pure definition of joy, always looking on the bright side of life's patterns and never forgetting that she's a woman with a good heart. For those who see life's glass half full, Cabiria is one whom we can look up to in order to stay in a positive light. For those who see life's glass half empty (GUILTY!), Cabiria is completely naive and just asking to get royally screwed again! But we, as the audience, are not meant to know that yet. We're meant to follow Cabiria on her daily rituals of a prostitute's life and take joy in the joy she experiences in dancing in the streets, eating good food, going home with a famous Italian celebrity (despite being kicked out the next morning), and even taking stock of her life when she begs the almighty Madonna for religious fulfillment.
I mentioned earlier the task of searching for love. Cabiria longs for that, as we all do. When she meets the man who appears to love her at first sight, she's actually smart enough to approach this with caution. She's a happy person, but also remembers to consider that she's been hurt by men before. But as a woman of general faith, she's finally ready to take the big plunge and give it all up, her profession, her house and even her financial independence, all in the name of that crazy little thing called love. Then it happens! We hope it won't happen, but it does! At the moment we think Cabiria is ready to begin a new life of love and devotion, she realizes that the man she thinks loves her is only looking to rob her of her entire savings! Another harsh blow for the gentle Cabiria. Devastated, she realizes that lost love is worse that being robbed and willingly hands over her money to him, but begs him to kill her and put her out of her misery. She doesn't get her final wish and collapses to the ground. But because she's a woman who seemingly doesn't give up (admirably faithful or fucking crazy, you decide!), Cabiria picks herself up and stumbles along in tears. In the film's famous last sequence, she walks the long road back to town when she's met by a group of young people riding scooters, playing music, and dancing. They happily form an impromptu parade around her until she very slowly and gradually begins to smile through her tears...a single tear, actually, dressed in black from her make-up that almost gives the facial resemblance of a clown. Visually, what does this say to us? Perhaps that even through life's misery and hardship, there is laughter and joy leftover in our spirits and even in our tears. I realize that's just SO damned optimistic of someone like me, but hey, that's Fellini's vision and not necessarily my own!
But let me just point out one flaw I can't help but take note of during the final scene of robbery and heartbreak. How much sense does it really make for a man to go through weeks of courting a woman under false pretenses only to merely commit the act of robbing her in the end? One can argue that he's patiently waiting for the big score of the entire woman's fortune to make its way into his hands, but at no time is her false lover ever given the idea that Cabiria is a wealthy woman - not even close! Seems like a great big, long effort for one to endure just to steal some money. I suppose what I'm suggesting is that if your motive is robbery, there must be a simpler and quicker way to do it. I realize that's just SO damned pesimistic of someone like me, but hey, that's MY vision and not necessarily the great Federico Fellini's!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Cabiria: "Guess there's some justice in the world. You suffer, you go through hell. Then happiness comes along or everyone."