I remember reading on the back of the Nights of Cabiria DVD case, “features the never-before-seen seven-minute ‘man with a sack’ sequence.” I watched a special feature on the sequence after I watched the film but still couldn’t fully understand why the censors made Fellini cut the sequence. I knew that it upset the Catholic Church but still, why? After a few viewings my question was answered.
When Cabiria and the others are discussing to go see the Madonna, the group of Catholic pilgrims pass by. The way the lights
shines on the group makes them look like they are a phantom, something unattainable and intangible to Cabiria. She feels drawn to them and walks towards the street. She stops and falls under a streak of light; but this light shows Cabiria’s realness. She is a human person living in the difficult conditions of post-WWII Italy and, more importantly, struggling to find happiness and love. This shot is stark, sharp, and concrete. She continues to walk behind them when their chanting is dominated by the hum of a truck, Cabiria’s next costumer. This sets the basis for what is to come in the next few scenes.
I will begin with Cabiria’s travel to the shrine. I focus on Cabiria because of all the people in her group, she is the one who takes the visit to the Madonna solemnly. One could argue Wanda as well but, to me, Cabiria is the only one. In The Story of Film, Mark Cousins argues that “Nights of Cabiria reflect[s] a society in which religion has disappeared and only its kitsch images remain” (249). When Cabiria and the others arrive at the shrine, it’s a mad-house or, if I may, a circus. There are numerous stalls selling Catholic trinkets, people walking every which way, the sound of people’s chanting and bells overlapping, elaborate candle setups, people cramming to get into the shrine.It seems many of the workers are there to capitalize on the Madonna; and it only gets worse. As Cabiria scans the walls, there are numerous lighted signs and candles in “honor” of the Madonna;
crutches to show that the Madonna did have mercy on them. However, the way Fellini shoots it makes it seem like it’s a commercial attraction rather than something holy. As they climb up the steps, people scream and shout to the Madonna to make them well or to help them. They throw their arms in the air, in a sense, forgetting themselves. Cabiria, in contrast, does not. Cabiria is the only one wearing a white, plain outfit, a color that is synonymous with holiness and purity. Her expression is sincere and her wide eyes says much more than all the shouts in the room. When Cabiria does say something, it is not exaggerated or head turning, but rather honest and quiet. Even her request to the Madonna, “Help me change my life,” is much more humble than some of the other requests like the uncle who asks to walk again. Once they leave the Madonna, Cabiria becomes frustrated and angry that the Madonna has not helped any of them. The Madonna, and therefore God, is not there for the people. All the people have now are the objects and images which fuel the faith.
Now for the man with a sack sequence. The night Cabiria sees the traveling Catholics, she receives a costumer. Afterwards, she walks home and stumbles upon a man with a sack. However, this time, that haunting light does not hit him. Rather it shines above him, thus he is real. As she follows him, she sees he gives poor people without homes food and other items that they need to live. He is kind but his expression does not reveal much else of his personality. After reviewing this scene again, I can understand why they made Fellini cut this sequence. When they first meet, the man with a sack shines his light directly onto Cabiria, seeing her as she is and not forcing her to catch up with him. As she talks with him, she is more spiritually fulfilled than she is when she goes to pray to the Madonna. The man with a sack is tangible, real, and someone she can talk to. The more Cabiria talks to him, the more we learn about Cabiria’s early life. She says that her name is Maria Ceccarelli and that her mother and father died when she was young. Cabiria takes down her defenses and shows a side that we have not seen previously. Without this sequence, Fellini is just slamming the Catholic faith. However with it, he is saying that it is everyday people take it upon themselves and help others by giving them what they need, whether it be faith, confidence, or everyday necessities. Probably not something they want to hear.