Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini)


Aside from being a masterful surrealist, it is also very notable to state that Federico Fellini is also a morally powerful and spiritually transcendent filmmaker. This is, of course, very much evident here in "Nights of Cabiria", an unforgettable cinematic masterpiece that traverses the widely unseen and unheard (at the time) world of prostitution and the soulful humanity that bleeds through and through albeit the blind sexuality contained within it. 
Although it is much expected that the film shall highlight the more obscene aspect of what many consider as the 'oldest profession in the world' just like, say, Luis Bunuel's later film "Belle de Jour", "Nights of Cabiria" is surprisingly very mellow with the jobs' details and instead delves not on the inner workings of the affordable sex that they offer or on what motivates prostitutes to continue on doing what they're doing but on the reasons why they should not anymore. At the center of it all is the energetic yet at times very temperamental Cabiria (played by Giulietta Masina), a prostitute who can be the most romantically jaded one minute yet can also be the most hopelessly romantic in the next. With a face that still echoes her heartbreaking turn in Fellini's earlier film "La Strada", Giulietta Masina, with her sometimes tomboyish facial expressions and mime-like gestures reminiscent of silent film stars, is a beautiful embodiment of both melancholy and hope. 
With her consistently comical body language and a face that fluctuates between naughtiness and confusion, Cabiria is evidently a most complex character to pull off. But despite of that, Masina has done it as if without much effort. Yes, perhaps there are no scenes that show her participating in any simulated sexual congress. And yes, perhaps Giulietta Masina does not, in any way, physically resemble an actual prostitute, what with her small stature and relatively frail body frame. But with the help of her masterful evocation of Cabiria's romantic naivety and pure humanity, she has been most believable as one in much the same way Philip Seymour Hoffman is never a dead ringer for Truman Capote (Toby Jones relatively gets that distinction) yet he has made us believe that he actually is the "In Cold Blood" writer for close to 2 hours mainly because of how inspired his performance was. 
But then of course, Giulietta Masina's powerful performance wouldn't really be as penetrating if not for Nino Rota's stirring musical score, the film's often dream-like photography and Fellini's patient direction which has perfectly built-up the film until its heart-breaking yet hopeful finale. 
Just like Fellini's masterpiece "La Dolce Vita", "Nights of Cabiria" is a film that's highly dependent not on how or where the so-called 'carnival of life' will bring the main characters to but how he/she may figure in the playfulness and hysteria of it all. In one of the film's most resonant sequences, Cabiria, along with her co-workers, joined a small pilgrimage heading towards the Santuario della Madonna so that they can ask her for forgiveness and guide. Albeit her countless pleads for mercy and various promises to change her way of life, Cabiria never felt any better or different, and so do her co-workers. Although a filmmaker that largely incorporates religious symbolism into his films, Fellini seems always aware that religion will always be a mere spiritual opiate and nothing more; that fate solely depends on whatever life a person leads and not on some higher power; that some music and a smile, not some wooden idols and a haplessly fevered devotion to the great unknown, can make the world of difference. With "Nights of Cabiria", Federico Fellini has made us all believe that despair can merely be shrugged off by a more than hopeful countenance. 
For the longest time, cinema has often made us feel the utter fruitlessness of existence and how it is almost impossible to graduate from life pristine and unscathed. "Nights of Cabiria", perhaps the best film ever made that deals with the emotional and moral conflict buried deep within the heart of prostitution, is a precious piece of art that genuinely captures the elusive essence of hope amidst anguish rarely seen in today's cinema.


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