Nights of Cabiria
Giulietta Masina won Best Actress at Cannes as the title character of one of Fellini’s most haunting films. Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria) is the tragic story of a naive prostitute searching for true love in the seediest sections of Rome. Criterion proudly presents the restored director’s cut in a breathtaking new transfer.
The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition for Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabira presents the film on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The standard-definition presentation was sourced from a duplicate negative of the then-recent 1998 restoration of the film performed by Rialto Pictures.
The presentation for the film ends up being a little frustrating because the restoration itself holds up rather well while the digital encode is a bit of a mess. The restoration did receive a little bit of fanfare at the time, most notably for including a previously excised 6-minute section of the film revolving around “the man with a sack” (a Samaritan who helped the homeless living around the outskirts of Rome). The restoration did end up cleaning the film extensively (though not perfectly), along with correcting contrast and gray levels. Damage could still be fairly persistent, with this weird looking scratch/mark appearing a little above the middle of the screen constantly, along with various other bits of dirt and marks. But for the time, it was clear a lot of work went into the restoration and it looks decent, the level of detail even being impressive.
Unfortunately, all of the good of the restoration is ruined once you start looking at the actual digital encode. When viewed on an older 4:3 CRT monitor it worked for the most part, but all of its issues are far more obvious today. At the very least the presentation is progressive, but there are instances where it goes interlaced for a frame or two, with the lines going across the screen being painfully obvious (the opening Paramount logo looks terrible). You also get instances where blocky patterns pop up and jagged edges can be a constant nuisance. In fact, if there is any sort of diagonal line or edge, expect to see a lot of jaggies. That weird scratch in the middle of the screen goes diagonal part of the way, and the jaggies show up there as well.
And it’s a shame because again the restoration actually looks pretty good and other aspects of the image are solid. The encode just completely bombs it.
Criterion includes two audio soundtracks: the original Italian and an English-dub, both presented in Dolby Digital mono. Both are about the same quality: dialogue sounds clear enough but there is an edginess to everything, and fidelity is extremely limited. There is some notable background noise and some pops, but nothing too bad. Neither are terrible but both are still open to improvement.
Criterion delivers a modest little special edition including a couple of interviews, starting with a 1999 interview featuring assistant director Dominique Delouche. For 31-minutes he recounts first meeting Fellini and then what he did on Nights of Cabiria. He also talks about Fellini’s directing style, the casting process, and covers the “man with a sack” sequence, which he was shocked to see was removed when he saw the film at the premiere.
As mentioned earlier that sequence was added back in with this restoration, but Delouche, in his interview, is unsure why it had been cut out, with one rumour suggesting it was done at the behest of the Catholic Church. Dino De Laurentiis ends up answering this in the next feature, a 4-minute excerpt from an audio interview with the producer. De Laurentiis explains how he felt the lengthy sequence killed the pacing of the film and strongly recommended to Fellini that he should remove it. Fellini refused. De Laurentiis explains he that himself had final cut, but he hated using that power so continued to work on Fellini to remove it, even using test screenings where the shorter version of the film tested better. Eventually, De Laurentiis confesses, he stole the footage, only to give it back to the director later, well after the film’s release. While I have basically spoiled the story here (more for posterity I guess), it’s still worth listening to De Laurentiis tell it since he puts a funny little spin on it.
The DVD also interestingly enough includes a scene featuring Cabiria (yet again played by Masina) from Fellini’s earlier film The White Sheik. The sequences finds Cabiria coming across the film’s hapless husband (whose wife may have run off with a lover) sitting alone in a square. It runs about 5-minutes and comes from a rough print with burned-in subtitles (Criterion would release the film on DVD years later). Criterion also includes a restoration demonstration, which compares Rialto’s restoration to older home video presentations, which look absolutely dreadful. Again, it’s a shame the DVD’s encode wrecks things.
The disc then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer and the 1998 Rialto re-release trailer. The release also comes with an insert featuring an excerpt from “I, Fellini,” where the director recounts the film.
Not a stacked edition but it contains a nice set of supplements for the time and for a lower-price release, the film excerpt being a thoughtful inclusion itself.
Sadly, this DVD is only way to get the film on its own in North America, and it’s been out-of-print for years. Though not perfect, the restoration itself is still nice, it has just been ruined by a terrible encode. Thankfully Criterion released the film on Blu-ray (with a far better presentation), but it’s currently only available in the Essential Fellini set. Hopefully it will get reissued on its own soon.