Written by: John White on April 8th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1951
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Cast: Emma Gramatica, Francesco Golisano, Paolo Stoppa, Guglielmo Barnabò, Brunella Bovo
DVD released: February 20th, 2006
Approximate running time: 92 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Arrow Films
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £17.99
Toto is found as a baby in the cabbage patch by an elderly spinster who brings him up and educates him. When she dies he spends the rest of his childhood in an orphanage and enters the adult world with no money, no job and no home. Toto’s kind kindheartedness and optimism inspires others and soon the slum he lives in becomes a happier more organized refuge for unfortunates like himself. Despite the new found happiness of the slum, a businessman buys the land and decides to evict the occupants when they find oil. The police move to empty the slum but Toto with the help of his dead foster mother hold them up until the slum dwellers are inevitably all arrested. Will Toto and the slum dwellers escape their poverty and keep their homes?
De Sica is best known for his seminal neo-realist film The Bicycle Thieves. Miracle in Milan retains the political edge of that film and concentrates on the poverty of slum dwellers. It does this from almost the standpoint of a fairytale and resembles nothing less than a piece of magical realism. In fact the eventual end of this film appears very similar to a scene in Milan Kundera’s novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.
Toto is an innocent manchild and his journey throughout Miracle in Milan never allows for cynicism or disillusionment. In fact characters become convinced he is some kind of angel because of his magical effect on them and his gentle goodness. When Toto is given a dove that can grant wishes his intention is to help everyone in the slum regardless of the material nature of their requests or the foolishness of their hopes. Consequently, tramps need to have a million pounds and their friends need 2 million, a black man longs to be white and his frustrated love longs to be black to avoid the shame of their love so he becomes white and she black!
This kind of anti-material message coupled with the collectivism of the slum and the shadiness of the top hatted capitalists is the core of the film. A film about the poor always being with us and their basic desire for shelter, food and community. The effect of giving the slum dwellers these things is their ability to leave the envy of the real world and fly off to heaven.
Miracle in Milan is a great piece and a hugely influential work. Done mainly with amateurs, the cast is superb, especially the cherubic lead. Some may find it’s open-hearted approach too naïve or patronising but frankly those people don’t deserve to see this.
Arrow have done wonderfully with this film. They improve on the previous Italian disc with a better transfer, better subs and some fine extras. Overall the picture is very good despite the original print having quite a lot of marks and scratches, and the audio is similarly strong with only odd pops throughout. The transfer is very sharp and the English subtitles are perfect.
The extras on the disc include trailers, lobby cards and a wonderful newsreel of the premiere. There are interviews with the director’s son where he reveals that the extras were woken up every morning with a bucket of water as they were usually so drunk, and a piece with the delightful Bovo.
Short of a restored print, Arrow could not have done better here. A magnificent disc of a masterpiece.
For more information about Miracle in Milan and other titles released by Arrow films visit their website.