Tuesday, May 01, 2007

36. Italian Frederico Fellini's "Le Notti di Cabiria" (Nights of Cabiria) (1957): Christian Marxism of Fellini and Pasolini

It would be far too simplistic to feel that the film merely presents an optimist's commitment to live and enjoy life in an imperfect world. Nights of Cabiria has always intrigued me among the many Fellini films that I have seen—-it is great cinema that asks more questions than it provides answers. It's a fascinating cocktail of Christian Marxism of Fellini and Pasolini—an elegiac social and religious commentary. Noted director Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote the screenplay of the intriguing film. Years after it was made, one realizes that the film was not as simplistic as it appears. It offers considerable questions for the viewer beyond the obvious.

Question one—who is the altruist who provides alms in the night to the wretched of the earth? The only reason for the addition of this character seems to be that Fellini wants a contrasting figure who works in the night—one who gives sustenance to others in a commendable way—a way Cabiria would have preferred to live her life if she had an option. It was amusing for me to find out that this entire sequence was deleted in earlier released versions of the film. My guess is that this sequence was an addition of screenplay writer Pasolini, as it would fit into his style of Christian Marxism, more than the neorealism of Fellini. Interestingly, this is one of the three males in the film (others being the actor who invites Cabiria home, and Brother Giovanni) who seem to have a pure heart and good intentions—all the others seem to have a predominant evil streak.

Question two—-Brother Giovanni leaves a profound effect on Cabiria. Confessing to him (she thinks he is a full fledged priest) and having Mass celebrated by him was Cabiria's wish but the cold response she receives from Giovanni's colleague, who is apparently a full-fledged priest, seems to be Fellini's/Pasolini's comment on the Church—otherwise why have the scene? Question three-—Cabiria's eyebrows change their shape as she contemplates a married life. This is not in line with Fellini's Cabiria, who would think about the effect eyebrows will make as she switches gears in her personal life. Or is Fellini suggesting that as Cabiria steps on the threshold of marriage, the personality of Cabiria changes to a more calculating woman, in contract to the earlier simple, waif like personality.

Apart from questions such as these, it is unquestionably one of Fellini's finest films. I preferred La Strada, another Fellini film with his wife Guilietta Massina in the lead role, and his later less talked about Orchestra Rehearsal, made some 20 years later, in which social commentary takes center stage and storyline the backstage.

I am surprised that most Fellini viewers are taken up with performances and the story each Fellini film offers. The more poignant world of Fellini revolves around the commentary on the divide between the rich and the poor, the honest and the dishonest, the religious and the agnostic. The allure of Fellini to me remains his social commentary—-he underlines this with Cabiria, in the final shot looking at you the viewer, bringing up the nexus between the character and the viewer. In fact, this final shot ought to wake up the sensibilities of the laid-back cinema viewer.