I have entered into the world of Federico Fellini and I don't think I'm turning back. The story and the performance in here are wonderful in particular Guiletta Masina, who stars as Cabiria. She plays a tough talking, streetwise hooker with one weakness: she falls in love all too easy. The story opens with her latest boyfriend, a shifty character named Giorgio (after a month of living together she's never learned his last name), steals her purse for pocket change and dumps her in the river. Even confronted with the obvious, she wishfully worries about Giorgio's welfare until the reality of his crime finally sinks in, and she responds with a sudden, mad fit of destructive anger.
Out first impression of Cabiria presents not so much a complex character as a passionate one: Masina's moon face and bright eyes flash emotions with the quicksilver spontaneity of a child. She's a streetwalker-as-Mary Pickford, a waif whose years on the street has turned wary and cynical, but just short of jaded. She still has the capacity to show her delight in life, the trust to give her heart away, and the clear thinking to buy her own house and stock money away in the bank.
As if haunted by the experience, she stumbles along looking for some meaning in her life, which she most pointedly does not find in a disappointing pilgrimage to a Catholic shrine -- "Nothing's changed!" she cries after seeing salvation turned into a circus. But after a devastatingly poignant admission while under hypnosis at a magic show, where she opens her soul when she meets her dream lover and becomes the object of ridicule by a taunting audience, she finally meets a man who seems to appreciate her open heart and trusting soul. Oscar (Francois Perier) doesn't know who she is or what she does, but he sees what we see in her glowing face: hope shining through her pain, a woman ready to offer her unconditional love.
Cabiria, as clownish as she appears at times, is no passive gamine but a hearty, rambunctious woman full of the joy of life. At a high class nightclub with movie star Lazzari she jumps into a goofy dance of joy, completely out of synch with her surroundings but an honest expression of her character. No posing, no masks for Cabiria, she is what she is and makes no apologies and that's what holds the episodic film together. The plot essentially exists as bookends to the film; "Nights of Cabiria" dares lose itself in the wanderings of its hapless, hopeful heroine. Perhaps no actress other than Massina could have pulled this off, a soaring triumph of the human spirit. "Nights of Cabiria" is a great film that I highly recommend to those who appreciate Italian cinema.