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Nights Of Cabiria  

Nights of Cabiria is Federico Fellini`s 1957 film about a troubled prostitute who, despite her difficult surroundings, manages to retain an air of innocence about her. She is the protagonist of a simple, very naive yet touching film.

The film begins with Cabiria having been saved from drowning. She has been pushed in the river by a long-term costumer who robs her of her money. She does not appear grateful for the help, as she storms away from her near-death, and is in a rage that she did so much for this man, only to get nearly killed in return. Cabiria is very defensive in general, displaying frustration at what she sees as meddling in her private affairs. Deep down, however, she is a sad and lonely woman, wishing that someone would sweep her off her feet and take her away from this life. She thinks she has this with a self-absorbed actor, who takes her away for one night only to neglect her when his spurned girlfriend returns to his house.

The key sequence is half-way through the film, as a religious procession passes through her town. All of the citizens go to say thier confessions to the Madonna, and Cabiria is the only one who seems to take the confessional seriously, as she wishes to be taken from this destitute life. When the confessions are over, and her companions slip back to thier eating, and drinking, and merry, Cabiria rants at them for not having changed. So she decides to take matters into her own hands and find someone who will take care of her. By serendipity, she finds someone at a magic show, who seems facinated with her as a human being, rather than a sex object. She is naturally suspicious toward this unusual behaviour, even with her previous hopes, but she soon warms up to him, and accepts his proposal of marriage. This is the set up for the melodramatic ending.

In many instances, this movie is a critique of those who place thier hopes too high. From the belief in religious miracles, to the hopes of meeting Mr. (or Mrs.) Right, Nights of Cabiria shows us the ineffectiveness and sometimes dangers of blind faith. At the same time, though, this is one of many watered-down depictions of the oldest profession. From a movie like this, down to a film like Pretty Woman, the long cinematic tradition of prostitution as a glamourous, extravagant, and fairly harmless lifestyle has long distorted the painful truth of a streetwalker. After reflection, I came to the realization that it is a bit insulting to prostitutes, and perhaps women in general. It inadvertently portrays the prostitute as doing this job not for the money, or to maintain a drug addiction, or being pushed around by a pimp, but for the hope of finding true love. While I was able to understand this particular woman`s silly wishes of finding love while walking the streets, I also know, upon reflection, that the entire premise is pretty much a joke.

Giulietta Masina, as Cabiria, is very good; she is able to make us forget that this certainly is not a genuine depiction of a prostitute. She plays her character as a tragic-comic figure rather than an embittered sex worker. Her quirky behaviour and her facial expressions are delightful to watch. If nothing else, Fellini at least gives us an atypical actress to play this role, which only makes us even more sympathetic to her plight. It is also worthy of note that she was also Fellini`s wife, and from watching her roles (including La Strada), she seems to have had been quite a wonderful person to be someone`s partner.

Despite the flaws, this is still an important Fellini work, and certainly a must-see for anyone interested in classic cinema.

David Macdonald

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