(Miracle in Milan)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Production: Soc. Produzioni De Sica, in cooperation with Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche (Rome); black and white, 35mm; running time: 101 minutes, some versions are 95 minutes. Released 1951. Filmed in Milan.
Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini and Vittorio De Sica with Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Mario Chiari, and Adolfo Franci, from the novel Totò, il buono by Cesare Zavattini; photography: G. R. Aldo; editor: Eraldo da Roma; sound: Bruno Brunacci; art director: Guido Fiorini; music director: Alessandro Cicognini; special effects: Ned Mann.
Cast: Emma Gramatica; Francesco Golisano; Paolo Stoppa; Gugliemo Barnabò; Brunella Bovo; Anna Carena; Alba Arnova; Flora Cambi; Virgilio Riento; Arturo Bragaglia; Ermino Spalla; Riccardo Bertazzolo; Francesco Rizzone; Angelo Priolil.
Cannes Film Festival, Grand Priz, 1951; New York Film Critics'
Award, Best Foreign Film, 1951.
Zavattini, Cesare, and others, Miracolo a Milano , New York, 1968; also included in Bianco e Nero (Rome), April-June 1983.
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* * *
Miracolo a Milano , which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was named Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics, is one of Vittorio De Sica's lesser masterpieces, not so renowned as Sciuscia (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Two Women (1960). Today De Sica's reputation as a filmmaker has been diminished by a climate of film criticism which maintains that much of Italian neorealism was little more than an idealistic masquerade. Nonetheless, De Sica contributed much that was powerful and authentic in neorealism, especially with the shattering stark drama of both Sciuscia and The Bicycle Thief .
The whimsy and fairy tale atmosphere that pervade Miracolo a Milano were De Sica's respite from the severity of his earlier films, an exercise in satire and irony which he linked to the world of Hans Christian Anderson wherein "virtue triumphs and evil is punished." He also said that he drew his inspiration from Chaplin and René Clair, an observation confirmed by the first paragraph of the New York Times review of the film; but he did not abandon neorealism in Miracolo a Milano , as so many critics have suggested. The first half of the film, (based on the novel, Toto, il buono , by Cesare Zavattini, de Sica's frequent collaborator) adheres to the documentary recreation of Milan's impoverished outcasts.
Miracolo a Milano is a modern-day fable which implies that the "pure in heart" must seek their heaven apart from earth. Toto the Good (Francesco Golisano) is an orphan who is discovered as a baby in the cabbage patch of the kindly old Lolotta (wonderfully played by the great Emma Gramatica), who teaches him to be good and pure of heart. When she dies, he spends several years in an orphanage after which he becomes an apostle for the beggars of Milan, aided by a white dove which possesses the power of miracles—the dove being a gift from Lolotta, now his guardian angel and benefactress. As he endeavors to improve the life of the beggars he discovers seeds of caste dissent, then their sense of unity is further disrupted by the discovery of oil on their adopted encampment. When they are forced to fight the landowner's police who are armed with billy clubs and tear gas, Toto's only resource is to have his band of hobos snatch up the brooms of street cleaners and fly to a land "where there is only peace, love, and good."
De Sica's combination of realism and fantasy is seductive, and his use of the fanciful sometimes overshadows the social commentary about the exploitation and dispossession of the innocent when confronted by the vagaries of poverty and the industrial society. And although De Sica steadfastly refused to admit it, the film has an element of despair, of spiritual quandary, as a dominant theme.
Miracolo a Milano was greeted with sharp denunciation from critics on the Italian right, all of whom accused De Sica of Communist leanings. It was much more wholeheartedly received in the United States, although its many levels of meaning were no less discussed here than in Italy. It is a transitional film in De Sica's career, for with it he moved out of the mainstream of neorealism. It remains a charming salute to the hope and perseverance of the common man, enhanced by the consummate cinematography of G. R. Aldo, a melodious score by Alessandro Cicognini and the wholly believable and unprepossessing acting of a cast made up of professional and non-professional actors.