Original release: February 8th, 1951
Running time: 100 minutes
Country of origin: Italy
Original language: Italian
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Writers: Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Mario Chiari, Adolfo Franci
Cast: Francesco Golisano, Emma Gramatica
We experience miracles everyday. Sometimes when I think things can’t get any worse, for no reason at all a stranger will brighten up my morning with a sudden act of kindness, or the sun will break through the dark clouds that have been hovering over me for days.
These little miracles help me remember there are things out there bigger than I am, and they make my troubles seem small and inconsequential and somehow easier to deal with.
There are other miracles though, defined as an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers. These are the miracles featured in Miracle In Milan, the follow-up to De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and based on Cesare Zavattini’s novel, Toto The Good.
The story begins with an old woman, Lolotta (Emma Gramatica), discovering a baby in her cabbage patch. She calls him Toto and raises him as her own, teaching him kindness and to make a sport out of any mishap he encounters. When she dies, Toto is sent to live in an orphanage, but this experience doesn’t break his spirit. When he leaves as a young adult many years later, Toto (Francesco Golisano) is a happy man who’s only too happy to lend a helping hand to anyone who’s in need.
With nowhere to live, a fellow homeless man takes him to a shantytown squatter colony on the outskirts of Milan. Once there, his cheerful and do-good-to-others nature help to bring a group displaced people together as a community to build homes out of the scraps left over by the nearby wealthy land owners and developers.
When oil is discovered there, the capitalists are quick to swoop in and try to evict the entire community, but Toto helps them stand up against these greedy men in more ways than one. With the powers Lolotta has bestowed upon him, he’s able to grant wishes, but then the people become as greedy as the capitalists – though a few of them ask for simple things. Eventually he’s able to take them all away to a better place and they fly to Heaven on broomsticks.
Miracle In Milan’s cheerfulness is infectious as we see Toto going about helping others. The film has a strong charm that’s been likened to the comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but De Sica adds his own twist of neo-realism to it. Scenes that show Toto and the homeless people trying to find a ray of sunlight on an otherwise dark, fiercely cold and windy day have both poignancy and sadness to it.
Elsewhere, in a subplot, we see the blossoming romance between a black man and a white woman, but they seem shy and afraid to be with each other. When Toto begins granting wishes, they see a way out of their troubles and each wishes to be the opposite colour, putting them back at square one, making the whole racial situation seem rather silly to begin with.
It’s a film that’s very enjoyable, but with so many writers on board, the story does meander in a few places, especially with the back and forth between the community and the land owners. However, as a film which shows us how the common man can overcome hardship, I can’t fault it much. Francesco Golisano delivers a fine performance as magical hero and though it’s quite a departure from De Sica’s other neo-realist films like Shoe Shine, Stazione Termini and Il Boom, it’s nevertheless beautifully told.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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