Nights of Cabiria

Movie Information

In Brief: The last of Fellini's true neorealist works, Nights of Cabiria (1957) is also one of his most emotional and emotionally devastating. At the same time, the film is strangely life-affirming, thanks to its indomitable main character, Cabiria. Cabiria (played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina) is a low-end prostitue who is one part waif and one part Chaplin's Tramp character. It won Fellini the Best Foreign Language Oscar and was a defining moment for Masina, but for some reason, it's one of the director's least-revived works.
Genre: Drama
Director: Federico Fellini
Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi, Dorian Gray, Aldo Silvani
Rated: NR

Fellini’s final neo-realist film, Nights of Cabiria (1957), won him his second Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and garnered endless praise for its star Giulietta Masina (Mrs. Fellini) as Cabiria. It’s actually one of Fellini’s most effective films—probably the best of his neo-realist dramas. Fellini and Masina take what could have been nothing more than a grubby tale of a downtrodden—and seemingly doomed to be betrayed—low-rent prostitute and turn it into pure gold. It’s at once a devastating film and a strangely hopeful one—thanks in no small part by having Masina base Cabiria to a large extent on Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Hope and happiness are fleeting, yes, but so is misery for Cabiria. Constantly victimized and made sport of, she is nonetheless going to endure.

There’s not much story—merely a series of events and set-pieces. Cabiria starts out being nearly drowned for her money and ends up in an almost identical situation that will leave her in direst poverty. But neither the character, nor Fellini wallow in her hard-luck. Individual scenes are among Fellini’s finest. The entire comic sequence where she gets picked up by a movie star (François Périer) and ends up spending the night sleeping in his bathroom with his puppy when his girlfriend arrives is perfect. (And like nearly every segment, she ends up wandering down the road like Chaplin’s Tramp at the end of a two-reel comedy.) A religious pilgrimmage is probably the film’s stylistic highpoint, but almost as fine is the sequence where she gets roped into appearing onstage with a seedy magician/hypnotist (Also Silvani)—a segment that is both funny and touching, and which paves the way to her ultimate betrayal. Really, there’s not a false moment in this remarkable little film.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will presentNights of CabiriaFriday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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