Miracle in Milan

Starring: Francesca Golisano, Emma Gramatica and Paola Stoppa
Arrow Films
RRP: 17.99
Certificate: U
Available 20 February 2006

Somewhere between the finish of the Second World War and the end of the rainbow a kindly old woman finds Toto in a cabbage patch. She cares and loves him till the day she dies and he finds himself shipped to an orphanage. When he grows to be a man he emerges as an innocent abroad in a larger world that he little understands, but is able to mould with his nave philosophy. He moves to a shanty town in Milan, where the sun only shines in one place at a time, and helps them form a community. When the capitalistic robber barons attempt to move the people he is on hand with his magic dove to help...

The Italian neorealism movement in films didn't last very long and effectively ended in nineteen forty-eight. As Italy moved away from the depression of the immediate post war years and employment and wages increased past pre-war levels, there was less of an appetite for the stark realities of poverty and a move back to the fantasies provided by Hollywood. On the political front the left wing parties were defeated in the elections and there was a general shift away from the concerns of the working man.

Although Federico Fellini's La Strada is held to be the death knell for this type of cinema we can also see it happening to De Sica's own film making in Miracle in Milan. The social background still exists but onto this De Sica has hung a fantasy that has more in common with Chaplin; it's the start of the social surrealist form of story telling, so it is fitting that the film starts with those immortal words from many a fairy story "Once upon a time". With so many staged elements the film could not hope to hold to the original tenants of neorealism, though together with Umberto D and The Bicycle Thieves, it represents De Sica's creative high point.

Although the film has an over arcing narrative, it actually feels more like a series of set character pieces, many of which lean towards sentimentalism. If this gives the impression of a slow film, nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst the first section of the film is virtually silent as far as dialogue is concerned, as soon as the musical score, by Alessandro Cicognini, kicks in, the narrative moves at a cracking pace. The score whorls around the on screen drama like a dervish on acid, Part mad fairground Wurlitzer, part funky freeform jazz, the score never lets the pace slow a heartbeat.

Francesco Golisano plays Toto as a true stranger in a strange land, raised first by the old lady who found him, who has, herself, a good sense of the absurd, and then within the confines of the orphanage. It is not that he is ill equipped to deal with life, after all he is able to unite the tramps for their own common good, it is rather that his childhood innocence and wonder has survived. Golisano's childlike performance compliments the fairy tale aspect of the film.

This release of the film show some print damage, most noticeably during the first 30 seconds, however the print, overall, is in good condition though the quality can be variable. I would hazard a guess that some, if not all of the print, has been restored. Sound is stereo in Italian with optional English subtitles.

There are some nice extras on the disc, including the opening of the film in Milan with both the writer and director of the film doing a nineteen forties version of the 'wasn't everyone great' featurette that has become the bane of DVD. There are a couple of interviews and the usual poster and lobby cards. Given the age of the film it's surprising to find this amount of extras.

A bit of an oddball film, whose social subtext is somewhat drowned out by the overwhelming visual absurdity.

Charles Packer

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