Fellini jewel restored

'Nights of Cabiria' skedded for July 1 re-release

Federico Fellini’s masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria,” the 1957 Oscar-winner for best foreign-language film, is joining the distinguished company of “Spartacus,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Vertigo,” all of which have been restored and presented on the bigscreen before getting a second, longer life on video.

Long in the public domain, “Cabiria” will be released in New York and L.A. on July 1 by Rialto Pictures, a company established last year by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein and former Strand co-president Mike Thomas.

Rialto’s first release, Jean-Luc Godard’s classic “Contempt,” which was co-presented with Strand, scored a major theatrical success last summer. Rialto also intends to release classics by Luis Bunuel, Carol Reed, Michael Powers and other auteurs.

In what is considered to be one of her most heartbreaking performances, Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife, who died just months after her husband in 1993, plays an extremely naive prostitute who endures an endless series of devastating misfortunes.

The film was restored in Rome by Canal Plus, the French TV and film company, after finding a reasonably clean print in a French fine grain labeled, “Les Nuits de Cabiria — Version Longue.”

Fresh footage includes a six-minute sequence, which had never been seen in the picture’s theatrical showings. Labeled by scholars as “The Man With the Sack,” scene describes an encounter on the shabby, poverty-stricken outskirts of Rome between Cabiria and a mysterious man who dispenses food to the needy from a bag on his back.

Various reasons are given for the deletion of this crucial, harsh scene — despite Fellini’s strong protests. According to some, the Roman Catholic Church had objections to the portrayal of the church as ignoring the needs of the homeless.

But other sources claim that producer Dino De Laurentiis felt that the ultra-realistic sequence, which appears in the middle of the film, was too cruel and slowed down the proceedings.

No matter what, cinephiles will rejoice at seeing “Cabiria” as it was originally intended by its master, then at the peak of his form.

The new “Cabiria,” which also includes revised, more accurate, subtitles, new optically reprinted credits and restoration of numerous frames, will premiere Tuesday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.