Opens with prostitute Cabiria being robbed and pushed into the river by her boyfriend Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi, shitty husband Fausto in I Vitelloni). She takes comfort in her friend Wanda then goes to work. Severe-looking blond Marisa’s pimp tries to hire her, but Cabiria prefers independence. Most awesome character moment: she grabs a chicken for comfort then quickly regains her composure and tosses it in the air. Cabiria is sorta awful to everyone around her, and there’s much shrill, trebley yelling in the movie, but you warm up to her pretty quickly, especially in the next sequence. . .
After she sees film star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari, heh, dreamy lead of Matarazzo’s Chains) getting dumped by his girl Jessie, he picks up Cabiria and takes her to a fancy nightclub with African dancing. When she cuts loose on the dance floor everyone watches her drearily, her enthusiasm not contagious among the stuffy rich club denizens. Then it’s back to his place (he has a toucan!). They start talking and she gets starstruck, then he hides her in the bathroom when Jessie comes back, and she stays there quietly all night – admirable restraint shown by the loudmouthed Cabiria.
The next night her compadres are teasing about her supposed run-in with a famous actor. She sees a passing religious procession, and follows a man (played by the film’s editor Leo Cattozzo) who provides food to people who live in holes in the ground, including a former coworker, now toothless and destitute. This is the scene I remember best from when I watched this years ago, so it’s surprising to read that it was missing from the film’s original release, cut by demand of producer Dino De Laurentiis, and only restored years later.
Cabiria and Wanda go to some garish candle-lighting Virgin Mary festival that reminds me of the quasi-religious commercialized camp in Tommy. “Madonna, help me to change my life,” she says tearfully, then the next day, “We’re all the same as before.”
At a magic show she’s hypnotised by Aldo Silvani (La Strada), acts out a youthful love scene in front of the crowd then feels humiliated when she awakens, but a man named Oscar (Francois Perier, the princess’s companion in Orpheus, also in Le Samourai) insists on talking to her afterwards. They go on a few dates, and he proposes. Cabiria sells her house, gathers all the money she has in the world, and meets him – but he’s a scam artist, intending to take the money and throw her in the river, back where we started.
But he doesn’t go through with the murder, and she walks sadly home, until cheered by some roaming musicians, smiling into the camera, one of the best film endings (and characters/performances) I’ve ever seen.
Film Quarterly: “All the Fellini virtues are here: the fluent camera, the wit, the elegant composition, the theme-and-variations style, the melange of theatrical and religious symbol, the parabolic eloquence, the vocabulary of private motifs.”
Won an oscar for foreign film (beating Mother India) and Giulietta Masina won best actress at Cannes. Pasolini, a few years before his directorial debut, has a co-writing credit. The disc also includes Cabiria’s scene trying to pick up the new husband in The White Sheik. Remade by Bob Fosse as a Shirley MacLaine musical before shit like that was typical (see also: Rob Marshall’s Nine).