Nights of Cabiria ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Major upgrade. The moment you've all been waiting for: it officially appears that I am "softening" on Fellini, having also recently revisited and quite enjoyed La Dolce Vita. This is gorgeous, I have no idea why I rated it so low when I first saw it, though I suspect it may have to do with (a) being 25 and (b) being, according to my records, dumped two days earlier after a seven-year relationship! But you don't need to hear about all that, do you??

Virtually all of Fellini's films are episodic, but it's interesting that -- despite being much shorter, and a bit more focused -- this one matches the later La Dolce Vita almost beat for beat in the specific nature of its episodes while exploring a much more sympathetic character. And while the technical aptitude, breadth and immersive nature of La Dolce Vita makes it more absorbing in many ways, this film's hyper focus on the life of the title character, so beautifully played by Giulietta Masina in what easily qualifies as one of cinema's signature performances, allows for a more deliberate and heartfelt kind of sweep. In La Dolce Vita Fellini's camera seems constantly aware of the larger world and the limitations of Mastroianni's basically empty life, but here, the headstrong and world-weary but still naively hopeful Cabiria lives through a series of disappointments that become completely our own, feeling as insular for us as for her, and the breath of air at the finale, when we are at last given a sense of life that has thus far been denied, or has defiantly excluded her and therefore us, is genuinely cathartic and moving. Even when I first saw the film and wasn't taken with it, the finale burst through everything and touched me directly -- I thought it one of the most beautiful moments I had seen in a film then -- but now I think it is not such an outlier from what precedes it, and that's almost exclusively because of the depth and liveliness of Masina's extraordinary performance. Witty and despairing, she -- and therefore the film -- seems to embody every dragging and soaring moment of life from the ground up.