This week it’s been really hard to watch more than one movie in a day. Maybe that’s an unreasonable expectation to assume I could both work and watch multiple movies and write about them, but I’m really good at being hard on myself. I was going to watch two films today, but once again I only watched one, and the one film that I did watch was supposed to be a second film on Wednesday in honor of the director’s birthday. Thankfully tomorrow starts the weekend, so I’ll hopefully be able to watch multiple a day.
Nights of Cabiria (1957, Dir. Federico Fellini)
I don’t know that I’d call Federico Fellini my favorite director, but he is the director of my favorite film, La Dolce Vita (1960). So in honor of (two days after) his birthday I watched his film the preceded his 1960 masterpiece, and Nights of Cabiria is also a masterpiece. I’ve still only seen a handful of Fellini’s films, but they’ve primarily fallen into one of two categories. The first are the ensemble cast, Roma (1972) and Amarcord (1973). I like these fine enough, but the don’t stand out to me especially.
The second category are the character studies La Dolce Vita and Nights of Cabiria (and I guess 8½ (1963) but that one doesn’t really fit). It’s in these character studies that Fellini’s work is especially unlocked for me. I feel like I personally know both characters Cabiria and Marcello after watching their respective movies due in part to the master performances by Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni, but also due to Fellini’s direction. Both films are episodic in nature, and the unclear time between each scene allows for the characters to explore different emotional states without the need for clear transition. Fellini as director gives his leads all the room in the world to perform, yet he still manages to truncate the film down to something succinct with perfect flow and with an emotional through line.
As much as I do believe Fellini’s direction is what perfectly forms Nights of Cabiria into a great film, without Giulietta Masina’s performance it wouldn’t be the masterpiece that it is. Cabiria is a complex character. She balances embarrassment over her job as a prostitute but is also proud that she is a self-made woman who owns her own house and never needed to work for a pimp. She hates her friend Wanda and also loves her. She wants to be seen amongst the glitz and glam yet feels uncomfortable when given the chance. Masiana captures each of these aspects of her character. She’s not afraid to bear the grime necessary to play a woman who prostitutes for a living, but also dances in a pure, humorous way when the time calls. If Fellini asked the character to portray ever human emotion over the film’s length, she delivered.