Nights of Cabiria

At the Brattle

Love. I don't remember when it first happened, I was so young; fifteen, and my hair hung down to my shoulders. I want love. Love is an instant of beauty with a sleek young man. Yes, love is worth it, I'll sell my body for the one possible beautiful instant. I can't help having begun wrong and now having to sell it, I was a poor girl, unskilled, thrown out onto the world.

Marry. Is it possible? Oh no, I won't believe it. I won't let myself believe it. Don't mock me, I have been mocked so often. Can you mean it? You have such kind eyes. Don't say it unless you mean it. It is too good.

Wretched. You have killed me. Something in me has hoped and died for the last time. You have reduced me to a whore again.

* * * *

The incorruptible self of Cabiria gleams out from her bought and sold body just as her eyes peer vivacious and warm through the painted expression of her face. Her eyes speak childish mischief to a man, even though he infers it to be winking lewdness.


The talent Giulietta Massina evinced in La Strada--her ability to switch quickly among three or four strong and simple emotions--suits her perfectly for this role, in which she must switch only from outside prostitute to inside virgin. In the best sentimental Italian manner, director Federico Fellini selects the most poignant situations and evokes from his actress the response of wistfulness devastated, time and again.

A representative sequence is Cabiria in the vaudeville house. In the middle of a realistic film, this peculiar fantasy scene stands out memorably. She is inveigled onto the stage by a top-hatted hypnotist who is the devil; she is put in a trance. With a wreath of paper flowers in her hair she is made to dream that she is about to enter into chaste matrimony with a handsome prince. Her face is transformed from a bedraggled chippie's to an incarnation of Hawthorne's Hilda. Then the devil snaps his fingers, house lights come up, and she awakens to rows of hooting, callous men delighting in her vulnerability. But she has died before, and she will die again.

To all us intellectuals, the movie can mean the transcendence of the human spirit over the tragedies of man's existence, or might be interpreted as a resounding affirmation of salvation from our modern dilemma. Actually, it's about people who get up, fall on their face, and get up again.