It's too much of a one-woman show, with Giulietta Masina's heroine achieving a sublime illumination while all the other characters linger in the darkness of deception and irresolution. Like La Strada... Cabiria has some of the limitations of an acting vehicle that sometimes loses its way on the road of life and forks out into the bypaths of a virtuoso performance.
...The character who started out as a picaresque heroine winds up as a kind of essence, an essence that can survive and even prevail over disillusioning stories. In this way Cabiria is a metaphor for the childlike gullibility or faith that makes Fellini’s dreamlike cinema possible, even when a film’s narrative underpinnings come loose.
Otherwise hardened and incredulous in so many ways, Cabiria remains open to fantasy, a testament to her dormant sanguinity and the buried hope that perhaps things can get better. She isn’t asking for empathy, and it’s not entirely her fault she briefly has faith in humanity. . . . Fellini once said that of all his characters, Cabiria was the only one he still worried about, yet by the film’s end, seeming to forget the futility of it all, there she is, among a band of revelers, cracking a smile.