10. Nights of Cabiria – Federico Fellini, 1957
Nights of Cabiria is the story of a prostitute in Rome, a woman who is tough, proud, and surprisingly naïve. It follows her as she goes through her daily life being used, abused, and looked down upon. It also follows has her as she searches for meaning in the church and gives of herself to others in ways that don’t include her body. All the while she looks for love and refuses to give up hope that she can find redemption and true companionship. The lead performance is breathtaking, and the film is absolutely devastating. It is said to be a transitional film for Fellini, as he moved out of post-war realism and into a little more free and dreamlike way of telling stories. This film is a perfect blend of both – it never shies away from the sadness that is Cabiria’s life, all the while being visually beautiful and experimental and artistic. When I saw this film, I was absolutely wrecked by the portrayal of someone so trusting and yet so “experienced” who never allows life to get her down. It is both depressing and uplifting, in some strange way. I absolutely love this film.
I love that you love this film, as it is also one of my favorites. One of the very best tragedies I have seen, largely because of what you pointed out - there is a breathtaking sense of hope throughout, highlighted by the finale, which daringly juxtaposes an ultimate indignity with a reminder of how much joy life has to offer, if willing. As with Fellini's other work from the period, he pleads with the audience to lighten up, while simultaneously recognizing and deeply empathizing with real pain and sadness. Also of note is the lead performance (an all-timer, if I have ever seen one), which slowly and miraculously unearths a common humanity from the brash, immature veneer of an outcast streetwalker.