For my second installment of Italian Feminist Films, I will be telling you about, "Nights of Cabiria." The film was released in 1957 and directed by the famous, Federico Fellini. "Nights of Cabiria" stars, Giulietta Masina (Fellini's real-life wife) in a role as a sassy sex worker. Initially, Fellini had difficulty getting backing for the film, since no one in Italy wanted to produce a film which featured a sex worker as a heroine. In the first scene, Cabiria is likeable and you're immediately on her side. Though, how can you not be when suddenly her boyfriend steals her purse and pushes her into the river and she nearly dies? From the start, you want to see her survive--and survive she does.
Cabiria is so uncomfortable with being seen as "weak" and naive that she lies to her close friend about her near-death experience:
Wanda: Go inside and dry yourself off.
Cabiria: I don't have the keys.
Wanda: Where did you put them?
Cabiria: In my purse.
Wanda: And where's your purse?
Cabiria: Giorgio's got it. We took a walk by the river and I fell in. Giorgio got scared and ran off.
Later in the film, Cabiria, drunk, wanders into a hypnotist's show, where she ends up on stage. The audience, mostly men, heckles her the entire time. They make fun of her for not being married and for living in the "seedy" part of Rome. Cabiria declares her independence to the crowd. Then she meets her next lover.
Most, if not all of the film, is about Cabiria surviving men's mistreatment of her. She is assaulted each time she trusts a man. The ending is most painful, as Cabiria has fallen in love with a wealthy man, who eventually attempts to push her off a cliff to steal her purse. Cabiria says to the man very calmly, "What's the matter? You don't want to kill me, do you?" Cabiria throws her purse at the man, so as not to get thrown over, and again, she is abandoned by a lover.
Cabiria, sullen and defeated, walks back to her town only to be cheered up along the way by a parade of youth. Three young men are playing instruments, circling her, and for once, she is treated nicely by men. Her spirits are lifted, and she is finally able to crack a smile amidst her tears.
Many things about this film stand out to me as being feminist. The fact that Fellini created a strong female lead, who happened to be a sex worker, is definitely one of them. The film humanizes sex workers and their work. Her loudmouth, sassy demeanor shows her strength and independence.
Cabiria is a survivor through it all, and by her smile at the end, it's evident she has a whole lot of hope.