Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Nights of Cabiria



Le Notti di Cabiria aka Cabiria : Italy (It-Fr) 1956 : Federico Fellini : 117 mins*

Though not to everyone’s tastes, this is perhaps Fellini’s most accessible and well-loved filmn. It’s the tale of a Rome “streetwalker” named Maria – known to all as Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) – and her various adventures and misadventures in search of happiness. In a performance that may remind British audiences of Barbara Windsor (though she’s also been compared with Charlie Chaplin and Shirley MacLaine, who played the equivalent role in the US musical version Sweet Charity) Masina gives a powerhouse turn as the diminutive, indefatigable, tempestuous, foghorn-voiced Cabiria, her energy sweeping the (slightly overlong) film along through its numerous, somewhat uneven episodes. Some (including David Thomson) have scoffed at the “tart with a heart” and it’s true that her brand of happy-go-luckiness (as seen most vividly in the magical, nocturnal coda) won’t be to everyone’s taste: this is a film which isn’t ashamed to request an emotional engagement from its viewers.

Persuasive highlights include the alluringly strange ‘hypnosis’ sequence (featuring perhaps the most languid, offhand mesmerist in screen history); Cabiria’s visit to a chaotic Catholic mass in a rural church (not a flattering depiction of Christianity); the Bunuelish scene involving ‘Padre Giovanni’ (tellingly, this holiest of characters isn’t actually ordained); and the climactic, tensely ambiguous clifftop scene between Cabiria and her suitor Oscar (Francois Perier), which plays out in front of a glowing monochrome sunset. Fellini – a long way from the grinding self-obsession of 8 1/2 – shows a great eye for detail: Cabiria’s little house – seemingly constructed entirely from breeze-blocks – is a thing of wonder, while it’s interesting to note how little she eats throughout the picture. Even when offered a sumptuous spread at a movie-star’s mansion, all she actually gets to consume is a single olive.

6th December, 2004
[seen 28th November : CineSide Newcastle-upon-Tyne : one-off public show]

* original running-time 110 minutes. Seven minutes of footage were restored in 1999. This shows people living in caves and receiving food-parcels from a wandering benefactor, removed after the Cannes premiere in 1957.

by Neil Young