cabiria.jpg One characteristic of the Italian cinema that I’ve noticed is a pervading sense of sadness in so many of its great films. It seems almost every great Italian film, whether classics (The Bicycle Thief, L’Avventura) or more recent (Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino), all seem to contain an underlying regret or yearning that motivates the principle characters and propels the movement of the film. The Nights of Cabiria (Le Notte di Cabiria), written and directed by Federico Fellini, is certainly no exception to this trend. 

Nights follows the exploits of a woman named Cabiria, a seemingly hardened prostitute who remains intent on finding true love and escaping her life on the streets. Despite her exterior show of stoicism, Cabiria seeks a sense of purity and love that Fellini continually portrays as merely illusory throughout the film. Nights came out in 1957 and is the earliest Fellini film I’ve seen. I was thus struck by how different it was from the films I had already seen. It lacked a lot of the inner psychology and symbolistic dreamscapes you find in something like 8 1/2. Nonetheless, several of the scenes, such as the one of Cabiria praying for the Madonna’s miraculous intervention on her behalf, are vintage Fellini.

A pivotal and highly moving scene in the film involves Cabiria being brought up on stage by a magician who hypnotizes her and has her believe she has just met her true love. As she drops her guard and dances around the stage, the hypnotist makes a comment along the lines that even for fully-grown, jaded adults, a childlike innocence remains inside us all. Whether or not this question is true is what the film explores, as Cabiria continues to return to her belief that true love can exist – even though she finds this belief consistently and mercilessly undermined in her own life.

I really enjoyed this film and would recommend it to anybody interested in Fellini or Italian films in general. It’s not Fellini’s best directing effort, but the script is fantastic and Guilietta Masina (she was Fellini’s wife in real life) acts superbly. The film does not seem at all dated. In fact, its questions of whether or not true love exists seems just as poignant in our age of Internet romances and rampant divorces as it did when it first came out nearly 50 years ago.