One of the great attributes in Federico Fellini's tragic masterpiece Nights of Cabiria is the sensational performance by his wife and leading lady Giulietta Masina; who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. The way she manipulates her wide eyes, her large eyebrows and her walk and manner is a complete character performance and is similar to a cartoon character. In some ways she is portraying a lonely and naïve prostitute looking for love and affection; but when looking closer at the performance you can see the character of Charlie Chaplin's the Little Tramp with a subtle touch of Lucille Ball. Fellini even admits that the style and influence of the picture is based on one of his favorite films which was Charlie Chaplin's silent masterpiece City Lights. Her exaggerated dance in the nightclub is a reminder of the purity and love of The Tramp and even her encounter with the wealthy movie star is reminiscent of The Tramps encounter with the millionaire in City Lights who only recognizes The Tramp when he is drunk. The ending which is quite tragic and sad, still ends on quite a hopeful note as so does the classic ending in City Lights when the blind woman finally recognizes The Tramp as being her savior. And yet while Chaplin's character survives a world of poverty, villains and happy romances, Cabiria survives at the low-end of Rome's seedy prostitution trade. The subject of lonely characters and isolated people have always fascinated Fellini throughout his career. He once stated: "Even as a child, I couldn't help but notice those who didn't fit in for one reason or another...myself included. In life and my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it's usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of the those who have been excluded." The French critics referred to Giulietta's performance in the film as the 'feminine Charlot' which is the affectionate name for Chaplin; which made Fellini and Masina very proud, and French director François Truffaut thought Cabiria was Fellini's best film. Even before Fellini's slow progression into surrealism, you can see a touch of his 'Fellinique' style slipping through the seams of the film. Film critic Roger Ebert added Nights of Cabiria to his 'Great Movies' list saying, "Fellini's roots as a filmmaker are in the postwar Italian Neorealist movement (he worked for Rossellini on Rome, Open City in 1945), and his early films have a grittiness that is gradually replaced by the dazzling phantasms of the later ones. Nights of Cabiria is transitional; it points toward the visual freedom of La Dolce Vita while still remaining attentive to the real world of postwar Rome." The character of Cabiria can be looked at as a saint among sinners who roams through the gritty streets and gutters of Rome carrying herself proudly and magically remaining untouched by the horrors of the world. Fellini admitted in an interview that out of all the characters in his films, Cabiria was the one he was most worried about. Fellini states, "The film doesn't have a resolution in the sense that there is a final scene in which the story reaches a conclusion so definitive that you no longer have to worry about Cabiria. I myself have worried about her fate ever since."
The film opens with a man named Giorgio and a woman named Cabiria running and embracing each other along the river. Giorgio tells Cabiria to go towards the river and when she does she says, "it's beautiful. Come on." Suddenly Giorgio steals Cabiria's purse and takes off with her falling in the water almost drowning because she cannot swim. Children rush out and call for help as several ordinary people who live down the river pull her out and while she's unconscious try to shake out the water from her lungs. One of the men says she looks dead and the others tell him, "dead bodies don't throw up water."
When Cabiria gains consciousness she asks, "Where's Giorgio?" One of the men that saved her says, "she's got seven souls, like a cat." Cabiria angrily throws a fit even though the men saved her life and storms off to Via Cecilia to her home. She heads to her house but cannot get in because her keys were in her purse and so she asks her best friend and roommate Wanda if she has seen Giorgio. Wanda asks what happened to her and because of the nonstop questions Cabiria takes her frustration out on her friend and says, "mind your own fat ass!"
Wanda asks Cabiria where her keys our and Cabiria says that they are in her purse."Giorgio's got it. We took a walk by the river and I fell in. Giorgio got scared and ran off. If you see Giorgio, I'm right here." she tells Wanda as she goes inside her house to sleep. That night Wanda is getting dressed to go out and hustle while Cabiria decides to stay inside. Right when Wanda walks out to leave Cabiria runs out and yells, "Someone would throw you in the river for 40,000 lire? Drown you for 40,000 lire?" Wanda tells her, "nowadays they'll do it for 5,000." Cabiria asks her, "Someone who loves you?" Wanda turns and says, "What love? You met him a month ago. You don't know his name or where he lives. Can't you understand? He pushed you in! He pushed you in the river!"
Cabiria doesn't understand why Giorgio would do that because she gave him everything, but doesn't want to report it to the police believing she would be a stool pigeon. She angrily goes into her home and gets rid of all of Giorgio's things and burns them outside in a bonfire. The next evening Cabiria and Wanda work on their prostitution trade on the strip in the Archeological Passagewhere of Rome where there are also several other hookers there, competitive and often bicker and fight with one another.
One of the prostitute's believes she is very classy while another one from across the street yell out that she looks like Moby Dick. One of Cabiria's friends boyfriend arrives and blasts music from his vehicle and so Cabiria starts to dance in the middle of the street with another man which eventually leads to a fight when one of the hookers shouts out about her boyfriend Giorgio. Cabiria looses her temper and runs to attack her as Wanda runs up to break them apart as several men on the strip are laughing at the spectacle. Cabiria gets a bloody nose and Cabiria leaves with a friend and her boyfriend who decide to take her home.
During the drive Cabiria tells him to stop at Via Veneto when her friends boyfriend starts to tell her to that she needs to find a respectable man. Cabiria says, "I don't need one. Why should I slave for filthy pigs like you?" When dropped off on the Via Veneto strip she notices several other whores working the area. When dancing in the street an officer sees her and tells her to get going. Suddenly a famous actor and millionaire named Albert Lazzari gets into a quarrel with his fiancée Jesse on the street as she walks out on him. Alberto gets into his convertible and when noticing Cabiria in the street he says, "hey you. I'm talking to you. Get in."
Cabiria gets in his vehicle as they both head to a night club as he pulls over and orders her out saying, "come on. Let's have some fun." Cabiria follows him into the club and she sits down next to Alberto at the bar. When some celebrity friends walk up to Alberto and ask him to come to their table, he tells them he is with Cabiria at the moment. He then asks Cabiria to dance and on the dance floor Cabiria starts doing a silly exaggerated dance with exotic ethnic dancers turning and watching her. Alberto then decides to leave and he takes Cabiria to his home.
Before leaving the night club Cabiria sees the woman that she quarrelled with earlier and yells out of Alberto's car, "Hey, fancy pants! I'm talking to you! Look at me! Look who I'm with! Up yours!" The two of them arrive at Alberto's palatial villa and when walking in Alberto asks his butler to make a table for the two of them and insists that if his fiancée calls that he is asleep. Alberto has all kinds of animals in his villa which greatly impress Cabiria and also has an automatic closet door that plays a musical tone when opening and closing.
When Alberto puts on Beethoven the 5th Cabiria keeps walking around and he tells her to sit because she is making him nervous. When his butler brings in lobster and caviar, Cabiria can't believe her eyes and even says to Alberto that this reminds her of the movies. When Alberto asks Cabiria where she is from and where she works she starts rambling saying, "I work the Passeggiata Archeologica. Much more convenient. There's another girl, my friend Wanda. She lives there too. But I don't bother with the others. The others sleep under the arches in Caracalla. Mind you, I have my own house...with water, electricity, bottled gas, every convenience. I got everything. See this one here. She never, ever slept under an arch. Well maybe once. Or twice. Of course, my house is...nothing like this. But it's enough for me. I like it."
Cabiria then tells Alberto she recognizes him as a famous actor and when she describes one of her favorite movies of his, Alberto tells her the movie she is describing isn't a movie he was in. When they have a drink together Cabiria starts crying saying that no one will believe her about all this when she tells them. She asks Alberto to give her a picture of him and write 'Cabiria was here at my house', and he gladly does that for her.
Suddenly Alberto gets a call from downstairs that his fiancée Jesse has shown up and is coming up the stairs. "I'll get rid of her...hurry," Alberto whispers to Cabiria as he has her hide in his bathroom. Unfortunately Cabiria remains stuck in Alberto's bathroom with his dog all throughout the night while Jesse and Alberto make up and spend the night making love together in the bedroom.
Finally early that morning Alberto quietly sneaks Cabiria out of the room while Jesse is sleeping and gives her some money. In an interesting scene (which was originally deleted) while walking home, Cabiria witnesses a Good Samaritan who visits the homeless with food and gifts. Cabiria curiously watches him and surprisingly recognizes one of the homeless people crawl out from a hole in the ground; who was a woman named Bomba who was once a beautiful hooker.
The next day Cabiria, Wanda and a pimp and his elderly uncle go to the city of Rome to see the bogus appearance of the Madonna to ask for forgiveness of their sins. "Heal me Madonna! Make me well!" people shout as they all get on their knees and pray. When entering the church, everyone is then told to approach the altar and face the Madonna. When Cabiria approaches it she says, "Madonna, help me, to change my life. Bestow your grace on me too. Make me change my life."
Later that evening Wanda and all of Cabiria's friends are drinking, arguing and celebrating while Cabiria keeps to herself getting slightly drunk. She suddenly gets up and throws a tantrum yelling at all her friends saying, "we haven't changed. Nobody's changed." Wanda laughs at her comments and asks what Cabiria wants to change. Cabiria says, "you think this is the end? You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to sell the house. Everything. I'm leaving. Good-bye, you guys. I'm through with all this!"
The next evening Cabiria pays to go see a magic show. When asked if it's any good before paying the man says, "You want me to say it stinks?" Cabiria pays anyways and when walking in she notices the presenter performing several magic tricks and hypnotism on the stage. The speaker notices Cabiria entering and asks her to come up on the stage and join them. She at first says no but eventually agrees, as she is asked where she lives and she unfortunately informs the rude audience that she has her own house and a bank account as one of the men yells out, "she's a countess!" In one of the film's most extraordinary sequences Cabiria is placed in a trance (half vaudeville, half enchanted fantasy) where she meets an imaginary man named Oscar in which she reveals her trust, hope for love and vulnerability.
When getting awaken from her trance she finds the audience laughing at her and because of being humiliated she later that evening waits for the rude audience members howling in the crowds to leave before she walks out on the street. She suddenly hears a man from behind her say, "Pardon me, Signorina. I'm Donofrio, accountant. Forgive my boldness. I don't normally stop young ladies in the street. I was inside among the audience. I came to tell you how moved I was. We can all pretend to be cynical and scheming. But when we're faced with purity and innocence...the cynical mask drops off...and all that is best in us awakens. I wanted to thank you. You did me good."
Cabiria is at first very cautious and suspicious of this stranger and when they both sit down Cabiria asks him what she exactly did when under the trance and the man says to her, "you acted out a very tender and delicate love scene. I'm still deeply touched." Cabiria is shocked that she revealed such secrets and then asks him what he wants from her.
The stranger then reveals to her that his name is Oscar and he believes her using the name of Oscar and her actions on the stage were more than a coincidence. Oscar then begs to see Cabiria again and before she leaves by bus he kisses her hand and she reluctantly accepts because of her naïvety. She is at first very distant and unsure of this man and when meeting him later like he promised she is about to leave out of fear until he notices her and stops her. After spending a few days together, Cabiria later one evening tells Wanda and the other girls on the strip of the Archeological Passagewhere on how the more time she spends with Oscar the more she understands and cares for him. "What's he after," asks Wanda.
Suddenly the cops arrive as prostitutes alert each other of their presence yelling, "The cops! The cops!." All the women spread apart and run as Cabiria runs and hides in the bushes. One morning outside her home Cabiria sees a priest named father Giovanni and when he asks if she is in God's grace she tells him she is not even after praying to the Virgin. The father then says to her, "Are you married? Girls should get married and make children. Matrimony is a sacred thing. In the grace of God, my child."
When Cabiria and Oscar are again out together Cabiria tells him she isn't sure she wants to see him anymore believing their wasting their time. Oscar then proposes to her. Cabiria is shocked as she says to him, "What are you saying? Marry me? Marry someone you've seen ten times? Someone you' don't even know. That's not how it's done. Thank God I'm more honest than some others. What do you know about me? About who I am? You shouldn't fool someone this way? Why pick on me of all people?" Oscar calmly says that none of that matters because he knows her inner self telling her, "We are...we are two lonely creatures.We have to stick together. I need you."
Cabiria eventually accepts his proposal now falling passionately in love with Oscar as she runs home like a giddy school girl announcing to Wanda her engagement saying, "Wanda, I'm getting married, that's what! He asked me to marry him! We're buying a store in Grotta Ferrata! Without me knowing, he arranged it all; a store, a house! I'm selling everything! I'll sell the house...we're getting married in two weeks! Wanda, I'm leaving! He loves me! He loves me!" Wanda asks if he knows she's a prostitute and Cabiria says that she told him everything and didn't hide nothing. Later Cabiria goes to see Father Giovanni to confess all her past sins and start a completely new slate in her life.
Eventually Cabiria sells her home and makes 350,000 for the house. The day Cabiria moves out of her home, Wanda helps Cabiria pack all her things. Cabiria then gives the house key to a poor family with children who are patiently waiting outside for her to leave. Cabiria says her goodbyes to all the residents in the town and before the bus arrives her best friend Wanda starts to cry saying, "you're getting married and I never met this fiancé of yours." Cabiria explains to her that she couldn't bring him to where everybody knows her and when the finally bus arrives she tells Wanda to also get married as well. "You'll get a miracle like me," she tells her as she waves goodbye to her best friend as the bus drives off.
In the climax of the film Cabiria and Oscar are at dinner and Cabiria tells Oscar that she withdrew a total of 40,000 from the bank as Oscar demands that she put her money away. Cabiria starts to weep as she tells Oscar that she's grateful that he never asked her about her money and how much she went through to save up for all of it. After dinner Oscar asks for them to take a walk in a wooded area and the two of them embrace and kiss. "Come. I know a shortcut," Oscar says as he leads her to a cliff overlooking a lake. Standing out on the cliff, Cabiria walks up to Oscar and says, "I guess there is justice in this world. You suffer, you go through hell...but then happiness comes along for everyone. You've been my angel."
Cabiria suddenly notices that Oscar is acting very distant and nervous around her. Cabiria notices his eyes glaring at her and she quickly gets scared and moves away from the edge of the cliff. "What's the matter?" she asks him. "You don't want to kill me, do you? Answer me! You want to kill me?!" She runs up to Oscar and begs him to speak and say something and when Cabiria looks over at the lake she realizes Oscar intends to push her over the cliff and steal her money. She throws her purse at his feet, sobbing as she collapses crying on the cliff. She then begs Oscar to kill her and throw her off the cliff because she doesn't want to live anymore.
When she starts screaming and demanding that he just kill her he grabs Cabiria and yells that she shut up. He then grabs her purse and takes off abandoning her as she is sprawled out on the cliff sobbing. After several hours Cabiria picks herself up and wipes away her tears as she leaves the wooded area and approaches a small road. She is met by a group of young people riding scooters, playing music and dancing.
In one of the greatest last shots in cinematic history you see a smile slowly form through Cabiria's tears as she watches this happily group form an impromptu parade around her celebrating the love of life; as Cabiria continues walking down a life long journey to an unknown future.
The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded.
The brief appearance of the Cabiria character near the end of The White Sheik revealed Giulietta’s acting abilities. As well as being an excellent dramatic actress in Without Pity and Variety Lights, she revealed herself capable of being a tragicomic mime in the tradition of Chaplin, Keaton, and Toto. In La Strada, she emphatically reinforced this impression. Gelsomina grew out of her original brief Cabiria portrayal, and at the time I sensed that Cabiria had the potential for an entire picture based on her character, starring, of course, Giulietta.
During the shooting of Il Bidone, I met a real-life Cabiria. She was living in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct. At first, she was indignant at my disruption of her daytime routine. When I offered her a lunch box from our food truck, she came closer, like a small homeless female cat, an orphan, a waif, maltreated and living in the streets, but still very hungry, hungry enough to overcome her fears with the offer of food.
Her name was Wanda, a name I might have made up for her if it hadn’t already been hers. After a few days, she communicated with me, though in her inarticulate way, some of the circumstances of being a streetwalker in Rome.
Goffredo Lombardo had the option for my next picture. He was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute, an unsympathetic character as far as he was concerned, and he found his excuse to back out of the deal. He wasn’t unique. Quite a few producers didn’t like the idea, especially after the box-office failure of Il Bidone. There is a story which is often quoted about something I said when I offered the script of Nights of Cabiria to a producer. Sometimes the same story is told, but a different film is substituted.
The producer says, “We have to talk about this. You made pictures about homosexuals”—and I suppose he is referring to the Sordi character in I Vitelloni, though it is not a point I made specifically—“you had a script about an insane asylum”—he is referring to one of many scripts that was never filmed—“and now you have prostitutes. Whatever will your next film be about?” As the anecdote goes, I respond angrily, “My next film will be about producers.”
I can’t imagine how that story got started, unless I started it myself, but I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember saying it, but I wish I had. More often, I’m the kind of person who thinks of what I wish I’d said after the occasion has passed, and it’s a little embarrassing to call back a day late with one’s quick retort.
There is no connection between my Nights of Cabiria and an early silent Italian film called Cabiria, which was based on a story by Gabriele D’Annunzio. If there was any influence on me, it was Chaplin’s City Lights, one of my favorite films. Giulietta’s portrayal of Cabiria reminds me, as it has many people, of Chaplin’s tramp, even more so than her Gelsomina. Her exaggerated dance in the nightclub is reminiscent of Chaplin, and her encounter with the movie star is similar to that of the tramp’s encounter with the millionaire, who recognizes Charlie only when he’s drunk. I leave Cabiria looking at the camera with a glimmer of new hope at the end, just as Chaplin does with his tramp in City Lights. It is possible for Cabiria to yet again have hope because she is so basically optimistic, and her expectations are so low. The French critics referred to her as the feminine Charlot, their affectionate name for Chaplin. That made her very happy when she heard it. I was happy, too.
For Giulietta’s wardrobe, we went to a street market to shop for the clothes Cabiria would wear. Afterwards, because she wasn’t going to have pretty clothes to wear in the film, I took her to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself.
Incidentally, the “man with a sack” sequence, which only the audience at Cannes saw, still exists and could be restored in future versions, as could a great many of the cuts I was forced to make in my films. After so many years, however, I don’t know how I would feel about it. I think the scene is especially good, but with or without it, the film stands on its own, so I feel lucky that it was the only part about Cabiria with which the Church found unacceptable for Italian audiences. The man with a sack had food in his pack, and he went around feeding the homeless of Rome who were hungry. This was based on a real-life character I actually saw. There were those in the Church who objected, saying that it was the role of the Church to feed the homeless and hungry, and that I had made it seem the Church wasn’t doing a good job with its responsibility. I could have responded that the man with a sack was a Catholic, a very good example of a Catholic who was taking individual responsibility, but I didn’t know to whom I should tell this.
I understand that the term auteur to describe a cinema director was first used in talking about me, by the French critic André Bazin in a review of Cabiria. The American Broadway musical comedy and Hollywood picture Sweet Charity was inspired by Nights of Cabiria, and my name is on the credits, but I disagreed with Bob Fosse’s way of doing it on so many points, I prefer that the film be regarded as his creation.
The positive nature of Cabiria is so noble and wonderful. Cabiria offers herself to the lowest bidder and hears truth in lies. Though she is a prostitute, her basic instinct is to search for happiness as best she can, as one who has not been dealt a good hand. She wants to change, but she has been typecast in life as a loser. Yet she is a loser who always goes on to look again for some happiness.
Cabiria is a victim, and any of us can be a victim at one time or another. Cabiria is, however, more of a victim personality than most. Yet even so, there is also the survivor in her. This film doesn’t have a resolution in the sense that there is a final scene in which the story reaches a conclusion so definitive that you no longer have to worry about Cabiria. I myself have worried about her fate ever since.
The name Cabiria is borrowed from the 1914 Italian film Cabiria, while the character of Cabiria herself is taken from a brief scene in Fellini's earlier film The White Sheik. It was Masina's performance in that earlier film that inspired Fellini to make this film but no one in Italy was willing to finance a film which featured prostitutes as heroines. Producer Goffredo Lombardo was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute and he had said, "we have to talk about this. You made pictures about homosexuals, you had a script about an insane asylum and now you have prostitutes. Whatever will your next film be about?" Fellini responded by angrily saying, "My next film will be about producers."
Finally, Dino de Laurentiis agreed to put up the money for the film. Fellini based some of the characters on a real prostitute whom he had met while filming Il Bidone. Fellini remembers meeting her in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct and offered her a lunch box from his food truck. For authenticity, he had Pier Paolo Pasolini, known for his familiarity with Rome's criminal underworld, help with the dialogue. For Giulietta's wardrobe, Fellini went to a street market to shop for unattractive clothes for Giuletta to wear in the film. Afterwards he paid her back by taking his wife to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself. Fellini loved the power of words and music. He never recorded the dialogue at the time he shot his films and always had them later be dubbed in.
On his sets, he played music during almost every scene; most famously the music by the legendary Nina Rota. Like a lot of Fellini's main characters, Cabiria hears the music, but often walks in counterpoint, as if to her own melody. In 1998 Nights of Cabiria film was released on Criterion DVD newly restored and with a crucial scene that censors had originally cut which was called 'the man with a sack' sequence. Fellini personally liked the scene but believed the film stood on its own without it and was luckily the only scene that the Church found unacceptable for Italian audiences. The man with a sack who went around feeding the homeless was based on a real life character that Fellini actually saw. Those in the church who objected to the scene said that it was the role of the Church to feed the homeless and hungry and that he made it seem the Church wasn't doing a good job.
Janet Maslin from Times Magazine called Nights of Cabiria "a cinematic masterpiece", and added that the final shot of Cabiria is worth more than "all the fire-breathing blockbusters Hollywood has to offer." Like a few years earlier with La Strada, Nights of Cabiria won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Film critic Roger Ebert added Nights of Cabiria to his 'Great Movies' list saying, "Fellini's roots as a filmmaker are in the postwar Italian Neorealist movement (he worked for Rossellini on Rome, Open City in 1945), and his early films have a grittiness that is gradually replaced by the dazzling phantasms of the later ones. Nights of Cabiria is transitional; it points toward the visual freedom of La Dolce Vita while still remaining attentive to the real world of postwar Rome."
The scene involving the Good Samaritan provides a framework to show people living in city caves and under bridges, but even more touching is the scene where Cabiria turns over the keys of her house to the large and desperately poor family that has purchased it." French director François Truffaut thought Cabiria was Fellini's best film to date when it came out in 1957.
Federico Fellini is one of the greatest directors in the world and like the films of Hitchcock, Bergman, Kurosawa, Bunuel, Kubrick and Godard, who which all have signature styles in their movies, Federico Fellini has a signature style as well. Even though Federico Fellini’s themes are very similar, through his body of work overtime his style changed. His early work in I Vitelloni was more biographical, La Strada, and Nights of Cabiria had more of a Italian Neorealism feel to it. He slowly ventured off a little in his masterpiece La Dolce a Vita, and delved into more surrealism with 8 ½ and Juliet of the Spirits.
Several themes he uses in Nights of Cabiria he later repeats in other films of his like nightclub scenes that include dance sequences, a religious ceremony of the Virgin Mary, an ending that involves the beach or the rise of a dawn and a circus like parade of performers. Fellini started out more in Italian neorealism with I Vitelloni which was based on his relationships and friends in Italy, La Strada, which told a tragic story of a traveling circus entertainer who loved an emotional and abusive man and ended with Nights of Cabiria. And yet after that Fellini’s symbolism began to overstep the boundaries of his narrative and he started to lose grasp on his Neorealism style and venture off into more of a dream like narrative. The huge statue of Christ carried by a helicopter above eternal Rome in the opening scene of La Dolce Vita became an iconic scene, but no one really understood and when he got to 8 ½ a he delved into pure surrealism which developed into a unique style that many critics called 'Fellinique.' After 8 ½ he did Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini Satyricon, and Fellini Casanova, and many people thought Fellini had lost it and gone off the deep end. I believe that his films after 8 ½ weren’t the masterpieces of his older films besides for Amarcord, which was a story that was more of an exaggerated portrait of his childhood. And yet his earlier Italian neorealism films are not only more simple and emotional then his later films but are in some ways the films I personally prefer more.
The character of Gelsomina is very different to the role Giulietta Masina played earlier in La Strada, because in that film she was a slow-witted and innocent victim of tragic circumstances. Cabiria is less innocent and can clearly see the cruelty of the outside world. The one trait that these two characters do have in common though is that they are looking for someone to love and for them to love them in return. To me, Cabiria resembles a homeless female cat who became an orphan that was emotionally scarred throughout her life. Living in the streets and always being mistreated, she always learns to overcome her fears and quickly trust others when there is an offer of money or food. Even though Cabiria tries to portray to others a tough like persona she deeply down has a big heart and a tender personality. She is such a sweet and loving person that she is always willing to let her guard down among people which eventually leads to men using and manipulating her. Cabiria is such a positive and noble character and sadly will offer herself to the lowest kind of people and will believe the lies that she hears. Even though she is a prostitute she is on a lifelong journey to change and become a better human being and her main goal is to find happiness anyway she can. Her whole life she has never been given a break and she has always been typecast as a loser. And yet she is a victim and at the same time a survivor who will always find a way to pick herself up again after being knocked down. The subject of lonely characters and isolated people have always fascinated Fellini. He even stated: "Even as a child, I couldn't help but notice those who didn't fit in for one reason or another...myself included. In life and my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it's usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of the those who have been excluded." Nights of Cabiria is one of the greatest films ever made and a beautiful character study on a woman who will take abuse, humiliation and ridicule and always find a way to rise above and continue moving. I believe the last shot of the film is one of the most powerful endings in film and to see Cabiria's smile slowly appear behind all that sadness and pain when witnessing the troupe of performers on the streets, makes me realize that she is strong enough to overcome any hardships and obstacles because of her love of life and strong drive to keep going and prevail.