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Nights of Cabiria

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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). 

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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.

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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.

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Foreign Film Spotlight: The White Ribbon

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My friend ALEX RAPHAEL asked me to review a foreign film, and I happily obliged. I selected the 2009 German-language film written and directed by Michael Haneke and filmed by Christian Berger. The White Ribbon is placed at the brink of World War I. Filmed in black and white, the story focuses on the ordinary people of a village ruled by the authoritarian influences of a baron, a pastor, and a doctor. These elders maintain order and oversee traditions. When random events upset this hierarchical relationship, their simple world becomes warped and shrouded in mystery.

An old narrator (Ernst Jacobi) reflects back to a pivotal time, when in his youth, he was the school teacher (Christian Friedel) who tried to solve a mystery. Someone placed a tripwire across the path of the doctor who was out for his daily horse ride. A deformed boy is brutalized. A barn is torched. Who is doing this? It’s a macabre culture masterfully created by Michael Haneke. Authority is never questioned and rules are followed. Here, adults recite the adages “Children are meant to be seen and not heard” and “Spare the rod or spoil the child”. Indulged behind closed doors are deviant actions and secretive liaisons. As time continues and no suspects are brought to trial, the pace quickens as terrorized targets are the undesirables. The eerie energy engulfs the village, achieved through exquisite cinematography.

Is anyone innocent? Who is guilty? Maybe everyone. Is this a film which attempts to show the roots of Nazism? It might be a stretch, but The White Ribbon does show a seemingly “normal” rural village that grows out of control and fear freezes the innocent to inaction.

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The works of Austrian Michele Haneke include Funny Games (1997) about a terrorized couple; The Piano Teacher (2001), a woman is suffocated by her mother and rebels in erotic ways; Cache (2005) features a Parisian couple terrorized by videos that link a secret in their past; and Amour (2012) is about the ultimate sacrifice of a Parisian couple. Guilt, secrets, suicide, terror, and repression are themes in Haneke’s works. I often wonder how the notorious heritage of Nazism adversely affected everyone who survived the war. Like first generation Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who suffered psychologically, Haneke, born in 1943, represents the first generation German who had to grow up bearing the guilt of it all. That angst sure seems to have bled into his films. Speculation aside, I highly recommend The White Ribbon.