Federico Fellini's 1958 Oscar Winner for best foreign language film, 'Le
Notti di Cabiria', is a realistic melodrama that features an unforgettable
performance by his wife, Giulietta Masina. Masina plays the role of Cabiria,
a naive Roman prostitute who suffers several misfortunes but never gives up.
Fellini portrays Cabiria’s Golgotha through a chain of misfortunate events
but she still never give up. From the beginning the film, Cabiria’s purse is
stolen and her body thrown in the Tiber River by a man she had been aiming
to marry. Through a succession of misfortunes, at the end of the firm,
Cabiria is betrayed, once more, finding her life savings stolen by a con
artist that promised to love her.
Cabiria’s goal was to find a man who would cherish and protect her but
becomes an easy prey to scoundrels. The only interests her loves have are to
exploit and then abandon her. In this film, Fellini's technique is to weight
the cost of both isolation and connection. It acts as a vaudevillian that
combines pantomime and dialogue in its structure and in its tone. It's not
really broad and obvious, but Fellini tells the story of Cabiria in a series
of discrete but connected episodes.
Cabiria's night with the famous movie star is one of the most memorable
scenes in this film. Thirty minutes into the movie, Cabiria is picked up by
Alberto Lazzari (played by Amedeo Nazzari), an aimless movie star who wants
to amuse himself. Alberto just had a quarrel with his girlfriend Jessy
(played by Dorian Gray) prompting Cabiria, which happened to be on that
street at the time, to get in Alberto’s car. Cabiria in then taken to a
nightclub and when bored, Alberto asks Cabiria to leave with him. As Cabiria
and Alberto get into his car, Alberto suggests they go to his house to have
dinner. As Alberto drives the car out of the parking lot, Cabiria spots the
high class prostitutes that insulted her earlier and shouted: "-Hey Fancy
pants!!..I am talking to you!!….Look at me!!… Look who I am with!!…Do you
know who this is!!" showing off her date.
As they drove into Alberto's glamorous Villa, numerous barking dogs
surrounded the car. The Butler opened the door and Alberto asked if anyone
called! When the Batler replies “no”, Alberto questions him whether he was
sleeping and did not hear any Ring Calls! In this scene, Fellini uses a
cinematic effect to demonstrate Cabiria’s insignificance. She is shown
standing in the dark, while the lights focus on Alberto and the Butler.
Consequently, Alberto orders dinner for two in his bedroom and also orders
the Butler - If Miss Jessy calls, I am asleep, if she insists I am still
asleep! At this point, Alberto seizes the opportunity to ask Cabiria what
her name was and she replies twice, because he did not hear the first time.
Cabiria then proudly gives her umbrella to the Butler.
As Cabiria goes up the stairs, the camera shoots her from the bottom of the
stairs as she comments to her-self on how many dogs are in the house -What!!
Another dog? Then on the second floor the camera rolls in front of a
birdcage filled with birds and Cabiria behind looking impressed. She
humorously asks Alberto if he also had fish and he answers with a simple
Yes! In Cabiria's deep, naive eyes, Alberto's palatial Villa becomes a
labyrinth of infinite pleasures. Alberto throws his jacket down on the floor
and Cabiria picks it up. Alberto says to her -Leave it for the maid! And
Cabiria answers - but it will get wrinkled!
In the bedroom, Alberto opens his mirror closet door, while diegetive music
is playing. Alberto is obviously upset because he had a fight with Jessy so
he turns and says to Cabiria - I am an Idiot! , What made me Do It.! Have
you ever seen an idiot? Well now you are looking at one! The famous Italian
actor Amedeo Nazzari, who in this film is engaging in a self-parody of
himself, plays Alberto Lazzari. Fellini chose a similar name for the
character, as that of the actor.
As the scene continuous, Cabiria does not respond to Alberto’s comments,
which later sits on the bed and turns on the radio. Then he prompts Cabiria
to come closer to him and asks her again what is her name was. Cabiria tells
him and then asks her where she was from. She answers -from Rome! Piazza
Risorgimento! Alberto throws away Jessy's picture and commands Cabiria to
sit down because she was making him nervous! They listened to classical
Music (Beethoven's Firth). Alberto later asked - do you like the music?
Cabiria answered -kind of! It is not really my thing! It is not my taste but
Suddenly the door knocked and the Butler brought in the food that included
Caviar and Lobster. Cabiria seemed happy to see the food and smiled. Alberto
then says -help your self, eat, I am not in the mood! He also tells Cabiria
to take off her fur petticoat because it was hot in the bedroom. Cabiria,
while taking off her fur petticoat, discovers that her blouse was torn;
probably from the fight with an older prostitute she had that evening.
Alberto then asks her again -Where do you live! And then the conversation
carries on as follows:
Cabiria: -Past the gas station, on the road to Ostra.
Alberto: -Via Venedo?
Cabiria: -Via Venedo?? Who Me!! No!! The streets of Rome are unforgiving and
harsh for a prostitute. There are those who sleep in caves and in the
Cabiria braggingly says: "I've got my own house...here's one girl who's
never slept under the arches. I work the Passagiota Archeologica, much more
convenient, the subway takes me right there. Me and my friend Wanda, but I
don't bother the others. The others sleep under the arches! Mind you I got
my own house… with water, electricity, bottled gas, every convenience, I got
everything.!! Even a thermometer! See me.. I never slept under an arch! And
then humorously adds - Well only once…or twice!! Of course my house is
nothing like this one (meaning Alberto's Villa). But it is enough for me, I
like it!! Cabiria then tells Alberto that she recognized him from the start
but did not say so.
Then they both continue drinking Champaign. When Cabiria kisses Alberto's
hand she suddenly bursts into tears. This demonstrates how sensitive,
fragile, and childlike Cabiria was. Alberto's attention deeply moved Cabiria,
impressed with Alberto's taken-for-granted privileges, that neither she nor
any of her acquaintances could ever imagine having. Seeing her moved,
Alberto asked what caused her tears and Cabiria responded -Who is going to
believe this when I tell them? They already think that I am full of it. I
might not believe it myself tomorrow! You have to do me a favor! Give me a
picture and write, "Cabiria was here in my house, ‘Alberto Lazzari’".
Alberto granted her wish and signed her the autograph as Cabiria started to
Suddenly the telephone rings and Alberto answered -I said to tell her I am
sleeping!…..Jessy is downstairs?…..don't let her up! But the Butler replied
she was already coming up. Alberto's interest in Cabiria was too good to be
true. Alberto's blonde girlfriend, stormed into the Villa and she was headed
up to the bedroom. Alberto quickly locked the glass bedroom door while
Jessy's shadow appeared on this glass door demanding to get in. Cabiria
stayed silent and Alberto prompted Cabiria to hide in the bathroom and
promised he would get rid of Jessica fast. Cabiria hesitated to go in at
first but she eventually did. Alberto locked the Bathroom door with Cabiria
inside, and let Jessy in. In this scene, a non-diegetive melody (voice over
music that the characters do not hear, music that only serves the audience)
begins in the tune of the films themed soundtrack.
Locked in the bathroom, Cabiria looks through the keyhole. The irony here is
that Jessy is very upset and cries because she suspects he cheats on her.
Alberto asks her to stop being jealous and tries to calm her down by giving
her a kiss. Cabiria, looking through the keyhole, is surprised because
Alberto promised he would soon get rid of Jessy. A puppy, which is in the
bathroom with Cabina, disturbs her view through the keyhole when she grabs
and holds it. While she looks through the keyhole, Fellini used the Iris
technique to create the effect showing Jessy and Alberto kissing trough the
After a while, Cabiria's face is shown in a close-up shoot. The expression
on Cabiria 's face shows the loneliness she feels, making the audience
sympathize with her. The audience feels her heartbreak, as she has to
overcome herself to earn her hard living. Massina's expressions throughout
the film show a variety of emotions, such as despair, loneliness and
uneasiness, but at the same time feelings of great courage and resoluteness.
Cabiria later draws away from the keyhole and seats on the bathroom floor
placing her head on the wall where she is left to spend the night with the
dog. To transport the audience from night to morning, a dissolve effect is
used. The next morning Cabiria wakes up on the bathroom floor and opens the
window to see the Villa's gardens. While Jessy is asleep, Alberto opens the
door and Cabiria quietly leaves the bedroom so that Jessy does not awake. At
this point, the non-diegetive music fades away and everything is silent. As
Cabiria exits the bathroom, she takes a look back at Jessy while she sleeps,
looking gorgeous and swathed angelically in white sheets, silently reminding
Cabiria of her place in the world.
For the next few minutes, the actors’ shadows are shown behind the glass
bedroom doors. Alberto offers her money, but Cabiria does not accept by
shaking her hands signing NO! Alberto puts the money in her hands and kindly
slaps her goodbye. Cabiria has her head down and her shadow fades away.
Cabiria wonders her way out of the mansion slowly. This time when she slowly
steps down the stairs the camera shoots her from the top of the stairs. A
humorous scene follows when she, by mistake, bumps her head into a closed
glass door and then curses at the door. With the camera shooting from the
back, Cabiria is shown walking alone on the road again away from the
glamorous Villa, walking back to her one-room house on the impoverished
outskirts of Rome.
This episode connects with Cabiria’s other incandescent moments that lead to
a bittersweet conclusion, the most emotional part of the film. Throughout her
nights, Cabiria faces adversity after adversity, stomped on and laughed at,
while her dreams constantly defeated. Yet she always emerges with her head
up, she goes on living, no matter how hard it might be. She would never let
anybody know, that her dream is to love and be loved. In the crushing
finale, when Cabiria is dealt the cruelest betrayal, Cabiria had the
carriage to smile back to the circus people that smiled at her and the
audience can see the unconquerable hope within the human spirit. Fellini
wants to show that there is something divine inside us humans. He wants to
show that we are all just human and Cabiria is the same as the rest of us.