Nights of Cabiria, The (1957): Fellini’s Oscar-Winning Masterpiece with Towering Performance from Giulietta Masina

In the second year of the Best Foreign-Language Oscar category, the five nominees were: Fellini’s “The Nights of Cabiria” from Italy, which won, “The Devil Came at Night” from the Federal Republic of Germany, “Gates of Paris” from France, “Mother India” from India, and “Nine Lives” from Norway.

Nights of Cabiria
(Le notti di Cabiria)
Nights of Cabiria Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Grade: A (***** out of *****)

Starring Giulietta Masina in one of greatest performances, Fellini’s masterpiece relates in a realistic yet serio-comic way the adventures of a Roman prostitute, who manages to remain upbeat and even optimistic despite an endless series of disasters and mishaps.

“Cabiria” benefits from a sharp script, penned by Fellini, regular collaborators, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, and the young Pier Paolo Pasolini, before he struck on his own as a major director.

Made back to back with the 1956 Oscar-winning “La Strada,” also with Giulietta Masina, “Nights of Cabiria” placed Fellini at the forefront of international director, making a string of innovative hits, such as “La Dolce Vita” and “81/2.”

“Cabiria” is joining the distinguished company of “Spartacus,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Vertigo,” all of which have been restored and presented on the big screen before getting a second, longer life on video.

In what is considered to be one of her most heart-breaking performances, Masina, Fellini’s wife (who died just months after her husband in 1993) plays an extremely naive prostitute who endures an endless series of devastating misfortunes.

The film was restored in Rome by Canal Plus, the French TV and film company, after finding a reasonably clean print in a French fine grain labeled, “Les Nuits de Cabiria–Version Longue.”

New footage includes a seven-minute sequence, which had never been seen in the picture’s theatrical showings.  Labeled by scholars as “The Man with the Sack,” scene describes an encounter on the shabby, poverty-stricken outskirts of Rome between Cabiria and a mysterious man who dispenses food to the needy and poor living in caves from a bag on his back.

Various reasons are given for the deletion of this crucial, harsh scene–despite Fellini’s strong protests.  According to some, the Roman Catholic Church had objections to the portrayal of the church as ignoring the needs of the homeless.  But other sources claim that producer Dino De Laurentiis felt that the ultra-realistic sequence, which appears in the middle of the film, was too cruel and slowed down the proceedings.

No matter what, cinephiles will rejoice at seeing “Cabiria,” as it was originally intended by its master, then at the peak of his form.

Long in the public domain, “Cabiria” was released in New York and L.A. July 1 by Rialto Pictures, a new company established last year by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein and former Strand co-president Mike Thomas.

Rialto’s first venture, Jean-Luc Godard’s classic, “Contempt” (which was co-presented with Strand) scored a major theatrical success last summer.  The adventurous company intends to release in the future classics by Bunuel, Carol Reed, Michael Powers and other auteurs.

The new “Cabiria” also includes revised, more accurate subtitles, new optically reprinted credits and restoration of numerous frames.


Directed by Federico Fellini
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, story by Fellini
Music by Nino Rota
Cinematography Aldo Tonti
Edited by Leo Cattozzo
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Italy)
Les Films Marceau (France)
Lopert Pictures Corporation (US)

Release date: May 10, 1957 (Cannes); May 27, 1957 (Italy); October 16, 1957 (France)

Running time: 118 minutes