Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: city, exurban, Federico Fellini, film, Giulietta Masina, happiness, home, homeless, italy, lonliness, prostitute, rome
Here are Fellini’s notes on his film Nights of Cabiria about a prostitute, and following that a description of the prostitute’s house on the outskirts of Rome. Have you seen it?
The settings for Fellini’s films are often exurban and bleak. No doubt they are a counterpoint to the fire and optimism of his characters. But also, and perhaps more significantly, they are the manifestation of a social act: the ostracism of people, in this case a prostitute, from proper society. You can see this rejection in Fellini’s notes below: his producer is scandalized that the filmmaker would want to make a film about a … prostitute.
Fellini describes meeting a poor and illiterate woman on his film set; she is like a scared animal. The prostitute’s house is a hovel, it is loved, decorated with character, and sits all alone in a field outside of the city of Rome. Of course, no one misses that she, as a prostitute, lives outside of proper Roman life.
All sorts of bad things happen in all ages to lots of people outside city gates. A walled city can be a place of refuge or a place of appearance. It seems Fellini’s Rome is a place of appearance, and business that needs doing but doesn’t meet the prescribed particulars of city life is conducted outside where it appears to not matter.
The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded.
During the shooting of Il Bidone, I met a real-life Cabiria. She was living in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct. At first, she was indignant at my disruption of her daytime routine. When I offered her a lunch box from our food truck, she came closer, like a small homeless female cat, an orphan, a waif, maltreated and living in the streets, but still very hungry, hungry enough to overcome her fears with the offer of food. Her name was Wanda, a name I might have made up for her if it hadn’t already been hers. After a few days, she communicated with me, though in her inarticulate way, some of the circumstances of being a streetwalker in Rome.
Goffredo Lombardo had the option for my next picture. He was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute, an unsympathetic character as far as he was concerned, and he found his excuse to back out of the deal. He wasn’t unique. Quite a few producers didn’t like the idea.
For Giulietta’s wardrobe, we went to a street market to shop for the clothes Cabiria would wear. Afterwards, because she wasn’t going to have pretty clothes to wear in the film, I took her to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself.
The positive nature of Cabiria is so noble and wonderful. Cabiria offers herself to the lowest bidder and hears truth in lies. Though she is a prostitute, her basic instinct is to search for happiness as best she can, as one who has not been dealt a good hand. She wants to change, but she has been typecast in life as a loser. Yet she is a loser who always goes on to look again for some happiness.
-Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria
As I said, here is the description of Cabiria’s house outside of Rome. I think she hasn’t chosen to isolate herself, but that others have isolated her as Fellini says. She is outcast and her house shows her situation clearly: it floats, is unconnected in the no place removed from the economic and social security of the city.
The little house belonging to the title character in Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” rises out of the landscape on the edge of a desolate yet oddly cheerful little Roman neighborhood, like one of the solitary, boxy buildings that dot the horizon in a Krazy Kat cartoon. It’s a cube built out of something like stucco, with a curtain of beads hanging like a shimmer of fake rain in front of its simple door — part jazzed-up fairy-tale cottage, part Spartan make-do dwelling. For its owner, the love-starved yet emotionally self-sufficient prostitute Cabiria, played by Giulietta Masina, in the role of her career, the house represents security and pride, a place to return to that’s all her own, like the tiny studio apartment of any city working girl. But is the house meant to signify isolation as a protective measure, or the sense of feeling truly at home with oneself? Or both? That conflict lies at the heart of what may be Fellini’s loveliest and most moving picture, made in 1957 … Maybe what’s so wrenching is that the house in “Nights of Cabiria” does symbolize both: Isolation can be a way to hide from pain and involvement, but there are also times when no one seems to deserve our company, when solitude — a deep sense of being at home with oneself — is preferable to anything else.
-Stephanie Zacharek, The Little Tramp, Salon Entertainment
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