actors, directors, Five Shots of..., movies, oscars

Nights of Cabiria


What I know about Italian cinema would fill a thimble. Why not start at the top? I could not have picked a better choice than to acclimate myself with the daunting director, Federico Fellini, and Nights of Cabiria (1957). 


The film begins and ends with the ocean and all of its hazardous potential; it is a metaphor for the personality of petite Cabiria as well as her life. She, the prostitute from Rome, an orphan who survives by her wits and her body, who owns her own home, and she aches to find an identity with which to live. She is as confident and loud as a yapping terrier. With verbal attacks or growling nips, her bark and bite are defensive strategies. She has grown a convoluted mantle from a life of storms and tides. Several scenes show us this soft underbelly and it’s what allows Masina to create a multi-dimensional character.

Cabiria bounces through the riptide of the Day of Adoration parade caught in the fervor of religious zeal. She is curious by the singular efforts of the Good Samaritan who feeds the homeless in caves outside Rome. Under hypnosis, she reveals a love brimming with such tenderness and yearning, your eyes will swell with tears. Cabiria’s charm is in her gait when she saunters or how she plays with her props like Charlie Chaplin, the artist who inspired Giulietta Masina in the role. The ending shot is grand when emotive music lifts Cabiria’s smile and the tragic situation floats away. Through a haphazard course of men and broken promises, Giulietta Masina delivers a range of expressions and energy and breathes life into Cabiria who returns like the tide, her optimism eternal.

Interested in more? Here’s a Roger Ebert, 1998 review.


What should I watch next? La Strada? What are your thoughts about the Fellini and Masina partnership? What is your favorite Italian film? 


Trivia from IMDb:   During the editing of this film, editor Leo Cattozzo developed the CIR self-perforating adhesive tape splicer (also known as “Costruzione Incollatrici Rapide”, “the Cattozzo”, Guillotine-, CIRO- or ARRI Splicer) which made him rich in the 1960s and for which he won an Academy Award in 1989.

35 thoughts on “Nights of Cabiria”

  1. It is so long since I have seen this, it brought back some hazy memories.
    Italian films? I love Bertolucci’s ‘1900’, Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’, and Bertolucci’s sublime, ‘The Conformist.’
    That ‘s enough to be getting on with. Unless you want to revel in ‘Rome, Open City’, from Rossellini, or ‘Bitter Rice’, with Silvana Mangano. Is life too short, Cindy? I think that it is.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. It is so cool to read this Cindy! I have had reviews written for both Cabiria and La Strada for a while now. Just need to post them. I adore Federico Fellini’s work, particularly the films that feature his transformation period from neo-realism. Nights of Cabiria is a beautiful yet sad picture. But as you say, that ending shot does say a lot!

    Fantastic film to highlight Cindy! Bravo.


      1. Sure thing! 🙂

        Neorealism was an Italian film movement that told stories centering around working class. It often spotlighted subjects like poverty, social injustice, day-to-struggles. Children often played big parts in the stories. Non-professionals were often hired as actors. Also it was very important for neorealists to film on location. The Bicycle Thief is a perfect example. Nights of Cabiria has many of these traits as well but we begin to see Fellini pulling away from it in the film.


  3. Like you, I do not profess to know much about Italian film, but I can recommend LA STRADA. I love the backstory of how Quinn was making BARABBAS for money during the day, and LA STRADA at night for love. But by all means watch AMARCORD, Fellini’s memory film. The peacock in the snow. The ocean liner at night.Criterion’s Special Edition is well worth the money. I find myself watching it every couple of months.

    Roger Ebert:
    ” If ever there was a movie made entirely out of nostalgia and joy, by a filmmaker at the heedless height of his powers, that movie is Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord.”


  4. “Nights of Cabiria” and others were shown in “art” houses of the day. At the time, they were absorbing and relevant. I wonder if that is still the case or are they simply reminders of postwar Italy?


    1. Oh, I thought it quite relevant for today! Her problems are universal. Wanting real love, knowing what you need (not so much what you want) to be happy and life’s search for that attainment. Also, tragedy strikes everyone –how do you react to it?Her reaction is priceless.


  5. I would recommend anything by Fellini, especially La Dolce Vita and Roma. Also, Rome Open City, The Bicycle Thieves, 1900, Salo, Cinema Paradiso, and Sergio Leone, the Clint Eastwood trilogy and Once upon a time in the West but I suppose it is only if you count him as Italian cinema.


    1. Hi John, thanks for adding your suggestions to my list! I almost watched Once Upon a Time in the West last night, but opted instead for sleep ;). Several people have mentioned The Bicycle Thieves. I think I should put that one high up on the list but hope I get around to watching all your recommendations. Why, oh why, is Italian cinema so highly regarded? Can you generalize them and classify them as different than say, their rival, the French? What about the British? Is this a European concept where post WWII the residue of the war inspired a movement in European cinema?


    1. Sure, why not? I’ve only seen the Eastwood trilogy. Any ideas why the Italians went that way? Any generalization you can make why the Italians made westerns and it worked so well while the other countries did not? Except, perhaps, the Japanese? I know so little….


  6. “Nights of Cabiria,” what a wonderful film! My favorite Fellini film is “La Dolce Vita,” but “Cabiria” is a near-perfect movie too. I adore Masina. She’s terrific in “La Strada” and “Juliet of Spirits,” two wonderful Fellini productions. Anyhow, have you seen the musical remake “Sweet Charity”? I love that one too (Shirley MacLaine plays Masina’s role).


    1. Eric, hi there! Yes, I am aware “Sweet Charity” is inspired from the Fellini film, and Shirley MacLaine is great in the role. I think “La Strada” is next on the list; I really was charmed by Masina and would like to see her in the 1956 role that earned them top awards.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Cindy, i esteem Italian cinema as the best in the world. Therefore, I could never name my favorite film nor suggest what film for you t watch next. However, since you liked Cabiria so much, you are certain to love La Strada. Personally, though, Amarcord stands leagues above those pictures. Of the suggestions you have so far received, I found Bicycle Thieves a lesser films,and would hardly consider it reo-realist. it is more a working -class melodrama. I would put director Vittoria de Sica on the back burner and start with Rosselini’s Open City and Visconti’s la Terra Trema. You ydon’t even want to get close to Salo/ when I saw it at a film festival, there was a sign at the box office begging people not to see it. Despite its artistic verneer, it is perhaps the most disgusting film ever made. After La Strada, you may want to shift over to Antonioni, and I would start with Il Grido, although his trilogy is a deeper and more enriching experience. It is also more difficult, and could turn you off to Antonioni completely if you dive into it too early. and forget about the spaghetti westerns and giallos. They are indicative of the regrettable decline of Italy’s national cinema. There are some fascinating directors who worked on them, but their talents are mostly wasted on deplorable garbage. There is so much more to see before going into that degenerate period. Dont miss the sex comedies of the early sixties beginning with Il Bell’ Antonio and Divorce italian Style…but skip the mid sixties fluff by de Sica, who made one masterpiece, Two Women. The essentials are: All of Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni, . Pasolini’s Accatone, Teorema, Mamma Roma, Medea,and and Trilogy of Life. Bertolucci’s The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, and 1900. Rossellini’s Open City, Paisan, and Stromboli.. There are hundreds more before we wind up in the modern age, where my favorite italian director is Paolo Sorrentino. His latest, Youth, is filmed in english,and is a masterpiece.


    1. So glad to hear from you, friend, as I know you love Italian cinema. My goodness, Bill, I could plop myself down in a corner and not move for months by the time I got through with your list. Usually in the winter when I have a break from school and time on my hands, I have in the past explored a film star of whose filmography I know little. Last year it was William Holden. I think this year instead of a person, I will just dive into Italian films and check out the names and films you and others have recommended. I hold your list up high! Cheers, Cindy


    2. Why, oh why, is Italian cinema so highly regarded? Can you generalize them and classify them as different than say, their rival, the French? What about the British? Is neo-realism s a European concept where the residue of post WWII inspired a movement in European cinema like “neo-realism”? Why do you like Italian cinema so much? 🙂


      1. first, the directors and their crews, who will do whatever it takes to realize the director’s vision. hollywood crews are made up of lazy,overpaid shitheads who think they know more than the director and whose favorite answer to every challenge is :it’s impossible.” the french are enthusiastic but imcompetent, especially since 1959. renoir and carne were their best directors. the british (sorry, pete) suffer from dullness. for a while, their kitchen sink literature brought their heads above the water line, and some fine films were made in the late 50’s and early 60’s. the italians had Cinecittà, the world’s greatestmovie studio, where anything was possible. and the actor and actresses!!!!!marcello mastroianni, sophia loren, Silvana Mangano, monica vitti, stephania sndrelli, Raf Vallone.Anna Magnani, and albto sordi. plus, due to the international nature of many of their pr
        oduction, and the use of post synchronization, they had the pick of all worldwide talent to enhance their productions.


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