CABIRIA - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

Italy, 1914

Director: Giovanni Pastrone (under the name of Piero Fosco)

Production: Itala Film (Turin); black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: originally 210 minutes; length: originally 14,746 feet, later versions cut to 8345 feet. Released 18 April 1914, Turin. Filmed 1913 in Turin on specially constructed sets; exteriors shot in Tunisia, Sicily, and the Alps; cost: 1 million lire ($100,000).

Screenplay: Giovanni Pastrone and Gabriele D'Annunzio (though D'Annunzio's contributions to the script were reportedly minimal if not non-existent); titles: Gabriele D'Annunzio; photography: Segundo de Chomon, Giovanni de Chomon, Giovanni Tomatis, Augusto Batagliotti, and Natale Chiusano; musical score originally accompanying film: Ildebrando Pizzetti; literary and dramatic advisor: Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Cast: Italia Almirante Manzini ( Sophonisba ); Vitale de Stefano ( Massinissa ); Bartolomeo Pagano ( Maciste ); Lidia Quaranta ( Cabiria ); Umberto Mozzato ( Fulvio Axilla ); Enrico Gemelli ( Archimedes ); Alex Bernard ( Siface ); Raffaele di Napoli ( Bodastoret ); Luigi Chellini ( Scipione ); Ignazio Lupi ( Arbace ).



Jarratt, Vernon, The Italian Cinema , London, 1951.

O'Leary, Liam, The Silent Cinema , London, 1965.

Museo Nazionale del Cinema Torino, Cabiria , Turin, 1977.

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Finocchiaro-Chimirri, Giovanna, D'Annunzio e il cinema "Cabiria," Catania, 1986.

Gethmann, Daniel, Daten und Fahrten: Die Geschichte der Kamerafahrt, "Cabiria" und Gabriele d'Annunzios Bilderstrategie, Munich, 1996.


Bioscope (London), 30 April 1914.

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Bianco e Nero (Rome), July-August 1952.

" Cabiria Issue" of Bianco e Nero (Rome), Summer 1975.

Cugier, A., "Discours de l'idéologie, idéologie du discours," in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Perpignan), no. 26–27, 1979.

Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1982.

Lane, J. F., "Cabiria: And Now Pizzetti's Fire Symphony ," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1983.

De Vincenti, G. "Il kolossal storico-romano nell'immaginario del primo Novecento," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), vol. 44, no. 1, January-March, 1988.

Cherchi Usai, Paolo, "Imitation? Paraphrase? Plagiat?" in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 1, May 1992.

Sequences (Montreal), no. 177, March-April 1995.

Alovisio, Silvio, "El poder de la puesta en escena: Cabiria entre la atraccion y el relato," translated by Isabel Monzo-Gandia, in Archivos de la Filmoteca , (Valencia), vol. 20, June 1995.

Celli, Carlo J., " Cabiria as a D'Annunzian Document," in Romance Languages Annual (West Lafayette), vol. 9, 1997.

* * *

Standing out from all the stumbling efforts toward a new expression of cinema, Giovanni Pastrone's story of the Second Punic War, Cabiria , demands special attention. Compared to the other colossal Italian spectacles of its time, it had an integrity and sense of purpose. From the beginning it was regarded as something special, and its premiere at the Teatro Vittorio Emmanuele, Turin, on 18 April 1914 was a great occasion. The film's accompanying score by Ildebrando Pizzetti, performed by an orchestra of 80 and a choir of 70, added to the excitement. Viewed today, the film has lost little of its epic poetry to the zeitgeist, though the acting performances may seem dated.

This story of a young girl lost amidst the clashes of two great nations retains its human interest as well as its power to amaze and astonish. The association of Gabriele d'Annunzio's name with the film reminds us of his dictum, "The Cinema should give spectators fantastic visions, lyric catastrophes and marvels born of the most audacious imagination," though, in fact, d'Annunzio's actual contribution to this film was very small. He was paid a large sum for the use of his name in promotion. What does bear his mark are the highly poeticized inter-titles which are a part of the film's continuity, as they harmonize in style and feeling with the images. The film is consistently and stylishly in the grand manner. When the servant describes Massinissa to her mistress Sophonisba she says, "He is like a wind from the desert bringing the scent of dust and lions and the message of Astarte." Few film heroes have had such a build-up.

Apart from the magnificence of the sets and the pulsating action of the story, the film is important for the patient research that produced such striking results and gave conviction to the historical setting. The great Temple of Moloch must have been one of the largest structures for a film up to that time. It and the Carthaginian palaces certainly influenced Griffith's Babylon in Intolerance. Infinite pains were taken with details which fitted effectively into the vast canvas.

Technically the film is also remarkable for its photography by the Spaniard Segundo de Chomon. The use of the moving camera has never been so effective in its almost imperceptible transitions. Every device of camera craft is used to produce a smoothly flowing narrative.

There is so much richness in this film: the great scenes of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his army and elephants; the eruption of Etna, and the destruction of the Roman fleet at Syracuse by means of the sun-reflectors of Archimedes. Most of these effects were achieved by multiple exposure. The acting is fairly theatrical, but the performances of Italia Almirante Manzini as Sophonisba and Vitale de Stefano as Massinissa are moving and impressive, while Bartolomeo Pagano, as Maciste the strong man, adds a new figure to the mythology of the movies. Cabiria therefore stands as a major filmic achievement at a time when the cinema was fighting for its place among the other arts.

—Liam O'Leary

Also read article about Cabiria from Wikipedia

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