Giulietta Masina’s performance as a prostitute trying to find happiness and true love is easily one of the best in the history of screen acting. Just her expressive face can speak volumes without her having to utter a single word. She’s much like those great silent screen actors, and there’s a spunk to her delivery that perfectly matches her physical energy. Her performance is pure heart and soul, fearlessly vulnerable and free of cynicism. This is pre-8½ Fellini, the Fellini of La Strada and I Vitelloni, the bridge between the Neo-Realists of the ’40s and the European Art Cinema of the ’60s. In that sense, Fellini is an absolutely fascinating stylist: You can see DeSica and Rossellini’s naturalism in the imagery, but Fellini’s lighting and cutting are too “arty,” i.e. too refined and thought-out, verging at times into pure lyricism. The wide shot, for instance, towards the end of the film is a prime example: It tracks forward to show Cabiria’s fiancé, his back to the camera, as he perches over a cliff overlooking the sea. Tonally, that image is so gorgeously lit and composed, it feels right out of Murnau’s Sunrise. Nino Rota’s score is phenomenal, complementing Masina’s performance impeccably. Flaiano and Pinelli’s beautifully structured script juxtaposes the church’s promise of redemption with the devil’s temptation of love and dreams as Maria (aka Cabiria) struggles to find a good man and, otherwise, tries not to dwell on the misery and shame that hounds her. An all-around masterpiece.
Directed by: Federico Fellini
Written by: Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli
Cast: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Amedeo Nazzari, Aldo Silvani, Franca Marzi