Not rated, mainly because it is an Italian movie from 1957. It's fairly tame if you don't think about it too deeply. But let's pretend that you are me, which is easy for me to do. Yeah, there's some content you may want to consider. First of all, Cabiria is a sex worker, which doesn't really play a lot into the story nor is it mentioned all that often. There are references to cocaine and drug use. Also, murder seems fairly commonplace, despite the fact that no one actually gets murdered in the movie. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini
Oh my goodness. I almost never write on a Saturday, let alone a Sunday. I don't necessarily think that it is a "Keeping the Lord's Day holy" thing, so much as it is that I always wrote during the work week when it wasn't summer. But now all the days bleed together and I don't want to forget too much about this movie, especially considering that I want to watch more old Italian movies. That's all that I would need is old Italian movies all jumbled up.
I'm going to make a huge confession. This one isn't exactly sacrilege, but more of a truth. I'm pretty knowledgeable about Italian neorealism. But you know what I'm not amazing at? The Italian New Wave. I mean, I know a little bit about it. I've watched my share of Fellini films and I teach about the New Wave a bit. But I could wax poetic about the Neorealistic period in Italy more than I could the Italian New Wave. So anything I say in this movie (with faux confidence) blog will be mostly my knowledge of the French New Wave more than the Italian New Wave because I don't have the time to look it up in my textbook downstairs. This is all a roundabout way to say that I enjoy Fellini movies without really understanding the nitty-gritty about Fellini.
I mean, for a Fellini film, it is fairly grounded. Heckfire, I'll even go as far as to say that this movie might be my favorite Fellini film. A lot of that comes down to the fact that I understood it (or at least, I think I understood it) and that it has this really amazing bleak message. My students hate that I love stories with bleak messages. But we, as Americans (assuming that my reading base --as limited as it may be--are Americans?) tend to have a lot of stories where things work out right. These stories don't really challenge us as much as they need to. I'm not saying this as an absolute. I also tend to gravitate towards bummer movies that are American as well. It's just that movies that make the rounds tend to be wildly optimistic. If they aren't wildly optimistic, they see the world as a good place and ask us to accept that things will turn out right in the long-run. But this film, as light as the tone is, is miserable. Life is full of sadness and the only way to survive it is to embrace simplicity and the now.
It's odd, because my mother-in-law got this movie for me for my birthday. She said that she wanted to watch it with me, but that didn't happen and I need to knock these suckers out before we go to Italy later on. (My life is very blessed.) But this is the one she wanted to watch? I mean, my mother-in-law is a tank of faith. Man alive, she is infused by the Spirit sometimes. So to hear her say that she wants to rewatch Nights of Cabiria with me actually shocks me. This is a movie that doesn't poo-poo faith so much as acknowledges that it is absurd and painful to embrace faith. I'm not just talking about religious faith. That's in there too. But Cabiria's major psychological challenge is to understand that having faith also means understanding that it is woven through with disappointment. Everything that Cabiria experiences makes her a better person, but it also hurts her more throughout the story.
I honestly thought that Cabiria was going to be the M. Hulot of Italy for a while. A good chunk of this movie is Cabiria representing an archetype to comment on society. Hulot is this over-the-top, Mr. Bean style character (that's a completely unfair comparison, but for the sake of brevity, I'm keeping it). Cabiria, who acts very different from Hulot, is this caustic and miserable creature. She starts the film rescued from casual murder only to scream at her rescuers. She meanders through Rome, encountering these different personality types and doesn't change her persona based on cultural context. But Fellini allows Cabiria to grow. It actually caught me off-guard and forced me to re-examine these scenes that I watched with her. But the film starts off with Cabiria mad that yet another man has tried to kill her and rob her and it is no sweat off her back. It's very bleak. She is more upset that she allowed a minimal amount of trust to escape her because that guardedness is the only thing that keeps her alive.
And her first encounter of faith isn't one having to do with the church. It's her interaction with celebrity. I love that Fellini makes celebrity her first real vulnerable experience. Perhaps it is because Italians are so often lumped in with this Catholic religious fervor that it makes more sense to the common man to find faith in celebrity. There's this really sweet moment where Cabiria starts crying after maintaining her persona for oh-so-long. It's because she knows that no one would believe that she had a genuine night with a movie star / director. (It's odd, because I instantly thought of the man as an avatar for Fellini himself, which seems standard based on his other films. But Cabiria recognizes him from a role that he played, despite the fact that the man insists that it wasn't him. There's a lot of "Is this really happening?" moments in the film.) But she thinks that she has abandoned her life of prostitution. She feels special for a moment, despite the fact that the man treats her as a means to maintain his own persona of celebrity. He only starts to see her for real when she breaks down and he signs the picture stating that, indeed, Cabiria and he hung out for an evening. It's something that is somehow so sexual and and platonic at the same time. It's really cool. But, even with evidence, no one believes her. Her fear is proven true. Similarly, this man never follows up with her. She is a non-entity, used to shame his previous lover back into his arms.
I could break down each and every one of the losses of faith, but I want to take the two that are perhaps the most life changing and merge them together. When she finds herself far from home, she encounters the cave of poor people. She continually stresses that she owns her own home and that she isn't destitute, despite the fact that Fellini always weaves in the history that clearly, she was quite poorly off at one point or another. But she meets this man (and this character is an enigma to me) who seems completely altruistic. That shift that was hinted at with the celebrity now seems to be the dominant personality that Cabiria carries with her for the rest of the film. This leads almost directly into the visiting of the Madonna, where the film almost goes out of its way to talk about the false elements of religion.
For the sake of clarity, I don't hold the same beliefs that Fellini does. As much as I like pessimistic views of reality where people can only hope for better, there is something heartbreaking when the crippled man falls when he places his faith in God for healing. But I've never really viewed Italian Catholicism to be what I saw in this movie. Again, I don't live in Italy. But I am Catholic. There was almost something revival-tent about the visit of the Madonna with this scene. But I completely related to Cabiria needing something to change in her life. Part of me sees the cynicism of faith, but I also want to imbue the fact that Cabiria wants instant change. For her, character development comes with strong choices. I know lots of people who have this philosophy and, like Cabiria, doesn't understand that real change takes time and slow sacrifice.
The end is painful. The end is real painful, guys. Even me, who lives for the crummy end, wanted the end to be happier than what it was. Part of me thought that Oscar (IF THAT WAS HIS REAL NAME!) was a better dude than he was. But the back of my mind would stop tickling. Perhaps Fellini accomplished his goal in reminding me that the world is full of jerks and it is only the present that brings us joy. But when he was going to kill her? That was almost this extra step where the damage was done through the marriage itself. It's this absolutely gorgeous bookending to the film where Cabiria doesn't mind being killed in the beginning and then begs to be killed because she doesn't want to live in a world of distrustful people. Oh my goodness. I wanted Cabiria to be happy for the sake of the character. But that betrayal did something gorgeous for the movie. Even this weird bittersweet moment of her accepting her place in the world didn't pull away from that. Part of me got the vibe that the end would have been too bleak without the late-night parade, but I didn't even hate it. Because I don't need to think that the world is a complete dumpster fire. I need to know that a lot of it is a dumpster fire with moments of joy sprinkled in there.
Yeah, that's still pretty bleak. But I dig it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.