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Peter T Chattaway

fellini's nights of cabiria (1957)

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Anyone else seen this film? I vaguely recall reading something about it in Lloyd Baugh's book on Christ-figures a few years ago, so when I came across the Criterion DVD at the local video store a few days ago I picked it up; I watched it last night, and I'm definitely going to have to re-read Baugh's comments on this film to see how he makes that analysis.

But it's a fun film -- the leading lady has been compared by many people to Charlie Chaplin, and with good reason, but she's also got a certain spunk that seems distinctly Italian to me. And while I don't know if Woody Allen has ever made any DIRECT allusions to this film, it certainly reminded me of Allen on numerous occasions -- the confession under the spell of the hypnotist brought back memories of Jade Scorpion and several other Allen films that have featured magicians etc., and the conclusion has certain parallels to Purple Rose, I think.

The most amazing thing to me is that the DVD includes a "restored" scene that, IIRC, had never been available in North America before -- a scene involving a "man with a sack" who brings food to people living in holes in the ground on the outskirts of Rome, including a woman that Cabiria recognizes (a former prostitute, I believe; Cabiria herself is a lady of the night, too). I find it absolutely mind-boggling that this seven-minute sequence could have been cut from the film -- without it, Cabiria's subsequent prayers to the Madonna would be lacking a heck of a lot of motivation.

On a side note, Bible-movie buffs will note that this film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis (who later produced The Bible: In the Beginning...) and some of the dialogue was given a street-smart polish by Pier Paolo Pasolini (who later directed The Gospel According to St. Matthew), who was apparently better versed in the vernacular of those who lived on Rome's outskirts than Fellini was.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Good connections. Didn't de Laurentiis do a number of his Fellini's early films? I seem to recall remembering his credit on others as well. It is interesting that the guy who produced The Bible also did Barbarella. (Interesting Allen comparisons BTW, you must watch a lot of Allen.)

That sounds like an interesting scene. I have seen the film a number of times on VHS, so I would be interested in whatever DVD release you picked up. We talked about Cabiria and La Dolce... a while ago on the old board because they both contain virtually the same scene, where we watch either Cabiria or Marcello walk up the hill through the Catholic procession as they stare wide-eyed at the festivities. Fellini gives us just enough time to digest the significance of what is going on.

But I can't place my finger on what would be significantly Christological about any character in Cabiria. Do you recall any details?


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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(M)Leary wrote:

: Didn't de Laurentiis do a number of his Fellini's early films?

Could be, he produced LOTS of movies back then.

Interestingly, I just finished watching the extras on the Criterion DVD, and it turns out it was Dino's decision to "steal" the seven-minute "man with a sack" sequence from the editing room, because he was convinced it was drawing too much attention away from Cabiria. (Ironically, the "man with a sack" was played by Fellini's editor!) I don't buy Dino's objection to the scene, myself, because Cabiria has a few things to do and say in that sequence, and it clearly affects her in a way that motivates her through the next few scenes ... but Dino didn't like it, and Fellini was badgered into letting go of it, at least until several years after the film was released; then it was re-inserted into special prints of the film that Fellini prepared for students and critics, a copy of which was discovered a few years ago in Paris.

: (Interesting Allen comparisons BTW, you must watch a lot of Allen.)

Hey, I've got all three Allen DVD boxed sets! smile.gif Plus I've read a couple of biographies. The Fellini influence has showed up in other Allen films too, like Stardust Memories and Celebrity.

: I have seen the film a number of times on VHS, so I would be interested

: in whatever DVD release you picked up.

Oh, man, there's a restoration demonstration on the Criterion DVD that just blows me away -- if all the VHS copies of this film were as bad as what they show in this demonstration, then you really, really have to see the DVD, new sequence or no new sequence!

: We talked about Cabiria and La Dolce... a while ago on the old board . . .

Here, you mean, or elsewhere?

: . . . because they both contain virtually the same scene, where we watch

: either Cabiria or Marcello walk up the hill through the Catholic procession

: as they stare wide-eyed at the festivities. Fellini gives us just enough

: time to digest the significance of what is going on.

Interesting -- I don't remember the scene in La Dolce Vita that well, but an assistant of Fellini's who is interviewed on the DVD recalls that there was something about the latter film that caused more problems with the Catholic church during filming than there were with Nights of Cabiria. (If I heard this right, some of the movie prostitutes were played by real-life prostitutes, apparently, so when the clergy had qualms with the fact that so many of them were at this real-life pilgrimage site, the producers told the priest that he could just get up there and preach to them all about sin and redemption while they were filming ... and so he did.)

: But I can't place my finger on what would be significantly Christological

: about any character in Cabiria. Do you recall any details?

Well, to quote pages 131 and 135 of Baugh:

To imagine how the protagonists of
La strada
and
Nights of Cabiria
can be considered Christ-figures, we have to adjust downward our spiritual sights. It might help to recall that, in addition to the biblical image of Christ in the Resurrection or the Transfiguration, or as the miracle-worker-healer-teacher, there is also the image of Christ in the suffering servant of Yahweh spoken of by Isaiah in the Old Testament, and the image of a Jesus powerless on the cross. There is also the Jesus who touched and healed untouchables, outcasts, who took seriously his association with sinners and prostitutes, an element of the New Testament accounts that we perhaps tend to sanitize today. If we take seriously this Jesus who fully incarnates himself into every dimension of human experience, and who may have thus appeared to be a failure, an anti-hero, it is a little easier to imagine how Gelsomina of
La strada
and Cabiria of
Nights of Cabiria
, in addition to having much in common with each other, can also be seen to have enough in common with Jesus Christ to justify considering them Christ-figures. . . .

Cabiria's identity and function as a Christ-figure does not exactly declare itself explicitly in the plot of the film. Nor does it jump to the attention in her two ill-fated attempts to have an experience of grace: one, while "at work" one night when she begins to follow a small Corpus Christi procession but is distracted by the arrival of a favorite truck driver; the other, her ill-fated pilgrimage to the
Divin' Amore
shrine.

Interestingly, however, Fellini films this episode at the shrine in such a way that, in fact, it seems a sign of spiritual strength that Cabiria
not
have an experience of conversion there. The absence of establishing shots, the tight, over-crowded compositions, mostly photographed from above and in claustrophobic medium shots, the noisy soundtrack, full of the shots of confused pilgrims, aggressive souvenir sellers and the strident tones of a preacher, create an almost surreal, nightmare atmosphere, suggesting perhaps the Temple of Jerusalem from which Jesus expelled the money changers. The final effect of the
Divin' Amore
episode is to reassert Cabiria's basic goodness and sincerity, her spiritual integrity over against all that would crush her. Already, we begin to perceive some christological dimensions in Cabiria's existence.

He goes on for a few more pages in that vein, talking about her "persistent optimism", her "crown of flowers" (a stand-in for the "crown of thorns"?) during the burlesque sequence, and her "betrayal" and "death" and "resurrection" at the end, etc.

And I just found out that this film was remade in 1969 as Sweet Charity, starring Shirley Maclaine and directed by Bob Fosse. Yikes.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Oh, man, there's a restoration demonstration on the Criterion DVD that just blows me away -- if all the VHS copies of this film were as bad as what they show in this demonstration, then you really, really have to see the DVD, new sequence or no new sequence!"

I will go look for it this week then, thanks for the tip

"Here, you mean, or elsewhere?"

I remember a longer more Fellini oriented conversation, maybe it was way back on the older board.

"Interesting -- I don't remember the scene in La Dolce Vita that well, but an assistant of Fellini's who is interviewed on the DVD recalls that there was something about the latter film that caused more problems with the Catholic church during filming than there were with Nights of Cabiria."

That sounds right. It is a great scene, but serves a much different purpose. It is almost a foil for Marcello's noncommittal amoralism.

"Well, to quote pages 131 and 135 of Baugh:

To imagine how the protagonists of

La strada

and

Nights of Cabiria

can be considered Christ-figures, we have to adjust downward our spiritual sights."

Okay. I read this thing and kept thinking to myself why someone would go to such lengths to discuss such a tangential point to the film. I don't think Nights of Cabiria supports reading the film specifically through this lense. It is more of a particular social commentary than a theological parable. So I am wondering how you feel about the paragraphs you quoted (and thanks for transcribing them).


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Link to La Strada (1954) thread.

Link to La Dolce Vita (1960) thread.

Heads up, Vancouverites -- a Fellini retrospective is coming to town!


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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love this movie, especially the ending is very touching, and the restoration is superb . Love the conversation too. I think this is the easiest Fellini's, even comparing with La Strada.

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I liked this film quite a bit as well. The lead character's spunk won me over, and made me care for her. The film looks terrific, the restoration is quite well done. And the last scene was quite touching,

the tear in her eye, shows that her spirit is bruised but not broken

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Dang. Missed it. Stayed home for my daughter's phone call from Australia, and she didn't end up calling after all.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Giulietta Masina gives a great performance and creates one of the all-time great characters in film. Cabiria is not just spunky, she can be downright fierce at times. Yet, she also showed this tender, vulnerable and innocent side. Masina juxtaposition of toughness and fragility was really something to behiold.

I really liked the film, except I had a problem with the ending.

Spoilers

Crow said that "she was bruised but not broken," and that's precisely what I found so hard to believe. I was devasted (apparently more than she was) by the revelation at the end. I really had hope for her and wanted her to be happy. The fact that she fell for the con man and that she sold everything would have been too much, I thought. I feared that she would jump off the cliff, which would have been more believeable for me. At least her recovery would have taken a lot longer than it seemed to in the film.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this film.

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