Miracolo a Milano (1951)


(director/writer: Vittorio De Sica; screenwriter: from the novel “Toto Il Bueno” by Cesare Zavattini/Cesare Zavattini; cinematographer: G. R. Aldo; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Alessandro Cicognini; cast: Emma Gramatica ( Lolotta, The Old Woman), Francesco Golisano (Good Toto), Paolo Stoppa (The Bad Rappi ), Guglielmo Barnab√≤ (The Rich Man), Brunella Bovo (Little Edvige), Anna Carena (Signora Altezzosa), Flora Cambi (The Unhappy Sweetheart), Erminio Spalla (Gaetano), Riccardo Bertazzolo (The Wrestler), Francesco Rissone (The Second Commander), Guglielmo Barnabo (Mobbi); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Vittorio De Sica; Criterion Collection; 1951-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

“Feel-good spiritual fantasy film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vittorio De Sica (“Bicycle Thieves”/”Umberto D”/”The Garden of the Finzi-continis”)uses his neorealism style effectively as he directs this feel-good spiritual fantasy film, which reminds me of the 1946 Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Chaplin’s silent social conscious comedies with the Little Tramp. It’s about displaced persons in a shantytown, in the outskirts of Milan, struggling to survive the post-war period. De Sica will claim they can only be saved by a miracle brought about by divine intervention, since the government does not serve the poor and the capitalists are heartless. It’s based onthe novel “Toto Il Bueno” by Cesare Zavattini and he cowrites it with De Sica.

A kind-hearted old lady named Lolotta(Emma Gramatica) finds a baby in her cabbage patch, in her garden, and adopts it. A few years later she dies and the child, Toto (Francesco Golisano), is placed in an orphanage. When Toto becomes of age, he’s released into the cold world of reality without any resources or home (why he doesn’t inherit his adopted mom’s farmhouse cottage is never explained). The orphan’s friendliness on the street and his greetings to passers-by goes unappreciated. Then his valise is stolen while he stops to watch a street scene. But Toto catches the culprit, a homeless man named Alfredo (Arturo Bragaglia),and lets him keep it after he explains he swiped it because he was attracted to it. Alfredo in return lets the good-hearted Toto sleep in his shelter in the snow, located in a scrap heap lot.

Through the cheerful Toto’s organizing skills, the many homeless people living in the scrap heap bond together and build huts in their shantytown. After the shantytown is erected, the capitalist Mobbi (Guglielmo Barnabo) buys the land, and a spy Rappi (Paolo Stoppa) convinces the landlord to evict the occupants after oil is discovered on the property. The day is saved when through the ghost of Lolotta, Toto receives from an angel a magical white dove–which grants his wish to stay in the shantytown. But when the dove is stolen (proving that being poor doesn’t make one good), the real-estate speculator has the police evict the squatters. Later the dove is recovered while Toto is in prison with the little homeless child Edvige (Brunella Bovo), and thereby Toto and Edvige fly on a broomstick for heaven–supposedly destined for a better life.

The overwhelming sentimentality of this outrageous fairy-tale and the hero as an eternal optimist believing that through love mankind can be saved, unashamedly (or perhaps in a sarcastic cynical way) asks one to believe in this allegorical presentation without pause–which, if taken literally, makes it more of a kiddie pic than a convincing adult one.