Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

My Favorite Films - #3

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 15, 2011 at 10:12 PM

The list so far...

10. 2001: A Space Odyssey

09. The Passion of Joan of Arc

08. M

07. The Bicycle Thief

06. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

05. Apocalypse Now

04. The 400 Blows

... and on to...

#3    -     Nights of Cabiria            FEDERICO FELLINI, 1957

        Memorable, cathartic endings is a common theme that runs through all the films on my Top 10 list. From the hypnotic starchild at the finish of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the heartbreaking freeze frame of The 400 Blows' final shot, my favorite movies are usually ones that have haunting endings that linger in the mind long after the screen goes black. My #3, Nights of Cabiria, is my pick for the single greatest ending in cinema, one that combines all the gratifying elements of the film itself with the innumerable charms of director Federico Fellini to deliver the kind of spellbinding magic that elevates this kind of artwork to a whole new level. I think a movie's ending is easily one its most significant parts, and failure on the part of the director to effectively stick a landing can result in serious degradation of everything that came before. But when somebody gets it so right, so completely, breathtakingly, gracefully, flawlessly, ingeniously right, as Fellini does here, you feel like life has been made new again.

          Fellini is one of my favorite directors, and this is his best film. He made movies like they were intended to be made - wildly visual, expressive, joyous, virtuosic, and teeming with life, using the format to convey great vibrancy even when his work was in black and white. Whether the subject was the circus or the decadence of fame, his style grabbed me from the start with its unique ability to showcase realistic human portraits through a baroque, whimsical lense. In Nights of Cabiria, the focus is on Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, who appeared in many of his other films. She plays Cabiria, a waifish prostitute strolling the streets of Rome while searching for love. She doesn't have such luck, however; robbed, neglected, and mistreated, a future with a loyal companion seems to be an illusion for her. But what's special about Cabiria is that even when she's shaken, she still has hope. Her fragility is a source of much damage, but like other Fellini heroes she has an inner-spirituality and efficacy that manages to overcome the travails. Not to mention the character is utterly charming, a bubble of piquant charisma that places her firmly by our side at all times. When others see her as a nuisance, we would like to reach through the screen and hug her senseless. A scene late into the movie, in which she acts out her elusive dreams while hypnotized on stage, is a prolonged moment of melancholy that makes our feelings that much stronger. Masina's performance is a shimmering beacon of perfection.

         Unlike much of the director's later pictures, Nights of Cabiria is more intimate and more concerned with gentle humanism than large abstract canvases. Both kinds of films are fantastic - 8 1/2 is another favorite - but something about this one, and that kind of filmmaking, hits me the hardest. His sparkling whimsy applied to ordinary situations and ordinary people is just impossible to resist, and with Giulietta Masina at the center - that chirpy, cherub face resembling a wide-eyed baby animal - the end product is like pure alchemy. Add on that enchanting ending and you have immortality.

And no, I will not reveal the ending. SEE THIS MOVIE!

Categories: My Favorite Films

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