Nights of Cabiria (1957)

"Nights of Cabiria" is one of Fellini's most personal and intimate works. It doesn't hold that ruthless anti-sentimentalism that his most famous works like "La Dolce Vita" or "8½" hold and it certainly contains none of the borderline surrealism that his critics always make reference to. "Nights of Cabiria" is Fellini at his most vulnerable and his most poignant.
A movie about love, life, the pursuit of happiness, and the differences in classes—"Nights of Cabiria" choses as its protagonist, a prostitute. It takes a while for us to learn of her profession and even then, its implications are not over-exaggerated .
Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) says to herself that she's perfectly happy. She owns her house, she has a bank account, she has a bird...what more could she want? Still, love has always stayed elusively around the corner and at the movie's opening, we see just how horrible Cabiria's taste in men is. While out on a date, Cabiria's beau decides to steal her purse from her and throw her in the water, letting her drown. She's rescued by a few youths and resuscitated by some local men. Once she regains consciousness she runs back to her house and breaks in because her keys were in her purse. 
She starts living in a state of denial, not wanting to accept that the man she was in love with a man would want to steal from her. It sinks in later that she might have actually died and he wouldn't have cared about it. This is what hits her the hardest and she starts to realize that she may want something more out of life...happiness.
But how does one achieve happiness?
Fellini certainly never tries to answer the question himself. Self-awareness, self-realization, self-contentment...yes, all of those are important ingredients but can you pin down a single correlation between an attribute and genuine happiness? Perhaps it's just a mindset. Tell yourself: "I am happy!" This seems to be Fellini's conclusion, though he is as vague as he always is.
Punctuated with a seemingly shouty and altogether unpleasant heroine, "Nights of Cabiria" strips away all pretensions and lets the viewer just its main character as they would.
It's hard not to like the short, blonde spit-fire. She has so much energy, so much charisma, she goes through so much that it becomes impossible to not love her. Though we empathize with her, we don't always agree with her decisions. The audience gets along with her more than the fellow characters do.
For much of the film, "Nights of Cabiria" could be seen as a wandering movie. One about a woman literally walking towards her fate. Still, I think that the film is much less about its plot—which does seem like a fairy tale and fairly surreal—and much more about the reaction of its characters. It's not important that Cabiria is transported from high class to middle to the lowest of lows again, what is important is who she meets there and what they say to her. A famous movie director picks her up and takes her to a bar and then back to his place. His mansion is opulence incarnate. In a later scene, Cabiria finds herself in a wilderness where people live in caves and rely on the kindness of strangers (see what I did there?).
"Nights of Cabiria" for all its emotion and charm, does wear you down a little. It's a bit too long for its own good.
Shooting the film with his wife as its lead, Fellini cannot separate himself from the story.
"Nights of Cabiria" would win an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but its impact stretches far beyond awards shows. This film, though laden at moments, is very charming.

Score: ★★★½

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