Review: Miracle In Milan (U) / Director: Vittorio De Sica / Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Mario Chiari, Adolfo Franci / Starring: Francesco Golisano, Emma Gramatica, Paolo Stoppa, Brunella Bovo / Release Date: Out Now
A 1951 Italian film from Vittorio De Sica, famed director of the gritty, Neo-realistic classic, Bicycle Thieves is not what you would usually expect a Starburst scribe to be reviewing, but have a little faith, as there is much more to Miracle In Milan than meets the eye.
An old spinster finds a baby in her cabbage patch and raises him as her own, instilling an education and morals, along with an ability to gleam pleasure out of any situation. After her death, the young Toto (Golisano) is assigned to an orphanage. When he is sent on his way into the world as a young man, his fresh faced optimism and naïvety land him at a shanty town, on the outskirts of Milan. This is a desolate, cold place with make shift 'houses' made of little more than a metal sheet. The down and out hordes huddle together in the strangely directional sun beams. Under Toto's guidance, they build a more structured town, with slightly more secure buildings, and a place for every unfortunate, even those who don't want to see themselves as 'tramps'.
When they suddenly discover oil on the land, the fat cat owner, Mobbi (Guglielmo Barnabo) decides to get rid of the inhabitants by any means possible. It is here where the film takes a more unexpected turn. Toto's mother appears as an angel, and gives him a dove which allows him to bestow the tramps of the shanty town their greatest wishes. This, of course brings out not only the inherent greed of human nature, but the bitter irony of love.
From the opening 'Once Upon A Time...' (despite obviously being post war Italy) to the celestial visitors and salvo of magic, the whole film is a delight. Director De Sica uses the fairy tale approach to highlight some very serious moral and societal problems. Using the style of the Neo-realism films that he had become well known for in the '40s/'50s (using non-professional actors, a simple narrative and a focus on the impoverished) juxtaposed with almost Frank Capra-esque flourishes make for one of the more satisfying and life affirming films of the sub-genre, with some genuine laugh out loud moments. If you are open minded enough to give classic world cinema a whirl (and of course, Starburst readers are), you will find Miracle in Milan a very rewarding watch.
Extras: Blu-ray and DVD version of the film from the original negative (the picture quality and sound are superb). Bonus feature film Il Tetto (aka The Roof) also by De Sica and Zavattini, previously unavailable on DVD. Interview with Manuel De Sica. Interview with Brunella Bovo. Newsreel footage of the Rome Première. Original trailer. Booklet with essays on both films, and a re-print of a 1951 article by John Maddison, The Case of De Sica.