“Look how classy I am!”
I’ve been listening to an awesome podcast for the last few months called The Canon. Every week, critics Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson debate whether or not a particular movie deserves to be put in the canon of all time greats. They hooked me in very early when neither could justify the overrated Blade Runner gaining admittance. More often than not, I’ve seen the movies up for debate. At the very least, I’ve heard about them. So when The Canon tackled a movie I’d never heard of before, and spent an hour talking about how amazing it was, that was more than enough of an endorsement for me to watch Nights of Cabiria as soon as possible.
Cabiria’s (Giulietta Masina) life is all sorted. She’s frolicking at the river with her boyfriend Giorgio (Franco Fabriziz). Until Giorgio steals her cash filled handbag, pushes her in the river and she almost drowns. That night, she returns to her usual work as a prostitute and meets movie star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari). After a public argument leads to Alberto being dumped by his girlfriend, Cabiria catches his eye.
Once again, Cabiria’s life is all sorted, as she marvels at Alberto’s luxurious home. Until Alberto’s girlfriend arrives at the door and Cabiria spends the night hiding in the bathroom. Possible salvation will appear again and again to Cabiria, sometimes in the form of people, sometimes in the form of faith. But the one thing they all have in common, is that they’re all seemingly there to break her down more and more.
I’ve seen a handful of Fellini movies in the past, and Nights of Cabiria might be the most grounded and realistic. While there’s nothing fantastical in Le Dolce Vita, the glamorous world and people that populate it would be unfamiliar to most viewers. 8 ½ deliberately floats between reality, dreams, flashbacks and fantasies, and La Strada is about a time and place so far removed from the world I live in, that even if it based on reality, it seems almost like a fairytale. And while l’ve never been a prostitute in 1950s Italy, there’s something very real and relatable about Nights of Cabiria and its characters.
Frederico Fellini might be the most famous director to come out of Italy. And with movies like Le Dolce Vita and 8 ½, he might have one of the most recognisable visual styles in cinema history. And while I can look at those movies all day and never be any less impressed by the style of Fellini and Italy at that time, it really is the gritty, street level grime that makes Nights of Cabiria so great. This world might not be as glamorous as his other movies, but it never stops Nights of Cabiria from being any less visually rich. And the fact that Giulietta Masina’s Cabiria is impossible not to love, doesn’t hurt either.