Nights of Cabiria traces the romantic misadventures of the title character, played to perfection by Giulietta Masina, owner of one of the great expressive faces in the history of cinema.
Cabiria is a prostitute, though the mechanics of her professional life are less important to the film than its thematic implications: Cabiria is constantly facing the clash of romance as a cold transaction versus romance as a gateway to transcendence.
The film’s secondary theme is Cabiria’s attempt at spiritual enlightenment. She finds herself repeatedly drawn to the church and its sacraments, further highlighting the ironies and contradictions in her day-to-day life.
Fellini centers the camera on Cabiria’s face, highlighting her emotional reaction to each encounter. The camera’s luscious, glittering black-and-white photography captures Cabiria’s nighttime wandering of the streets of Rome with grace and beauty. These are truly striking visuals.
I had an absolute blast watching Nights of Cabiria. It’s a delight to look at, and Cabiria and her various foils generate incidents that are tremendously entertaining and symbolically rich.
The biggest problem with Nights of Cabiria for me is that it is so episodic, built not around a cohesive narrative arc but a persistent theme. On the other hand, the movie’s final scene and shot are such a perfect cappers that it ultimately holds the movie together into one glorious whole.
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.