Nights of Cabiria + Lili


Double feature: “Felliniesque” has become shorthand for a kind of disjointed grace, with bizarre/ fantastical non-sequiturs and detours into characters’ mental landscapes, both dreaming and awake.

By that definition, “Lili” is arguably even more Felliniesque than its psychic twin, Fellini’s own “Nights of Cabiria.” A candy-colored 1950s musical, “Lili” is also chockfull of weirdness, which it serves straight up – without irony, wink, or comment.

The heroines of these two films have as much in common as the films themselves. The emotions of both play directly on their surface. Both have an admirably stubborn resilience preventing them from being permanently submerged by life’s buffetings (which, in both of their cases, are regular.) Both seem to have hit upon the right mixture of self-respect and a self-directed sense of humor.

Perhaps most importantly, both have an openness and receptivity that allow for two remarkable, rhyming scenes of the heroines taking in, and then becoming absorbed into, a public performance.

This shared capacity for absorption exists alongside a shared self-deceptive streak that keeps both from seeing what they don’t want to see – until they can no longer ignore it.

For a marathon: “Lili” is one of a number of mid-century films choosing not to wear their Freudianism lightly. For more in this vein, there’s always Hitchcock. Especially apt after “Lili” would be “Psycho” (for another case of object-mediated splitting into selves,) or even “Vertigo” (for another example of a man stage-managing his love interest.)

After “Nights of Cabiria,” check out “Chronicle of a Summer” for another (but more extreme) example of an emotionally labile young woman who lets a fair portion of her inner life spill upon her surface. Or go another route and follow it with “The Trip to Bountiful,” featuring another justifiably house-proud heroine with a belief in the essential benevolence of others.

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “The Vault DFW” and “ZoomGalaxy” at Flickr)

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