Monday, August 4, 2014

Miracle in Milan

Miracolo a Milano; comedy/ fantasy, Italy, 1951; D: Vittorio De Sica, S: Francesco Golisano, Paolo Stoppa, Brunella Bovo, Emma Gramatica

An old lady finds a baby among the cabbage in her garden and adopts it. After a decade or so, the lady dies and the boy, now a teenager, Toto, lands on the streets. Always happy and cheerful, Toto helps establish a slum for the homeless people in Milan. Unfortunately, a rich man, Mobbi, buys off the land they are on and decides to chase all the homeless people away when oil is found there. The lady's ghost shows up and gives Toto a magic dove that can fulfil each of his wish, and he uses it to stop the police and bring coats, furniture and other stuff for the poor people. The police finally arrests and deports the homeless, but Toto uses the dove to escape on flying brooms with everyone.

Even though it won the Golden Palm in Cannes, some critics never forgave director Vittorio De Sica for betraying the Italian social neorealism and making a social anti-realist fantasy "Miracle in Milan": unlike his depressive and bitter poverty classic "The Bicycle Thieves", De Sica here crafted the story about homeless people in a slum fighting against eviction as a chaplinesque comedy, an optimistic fable where anything goes thanks to the magic powers of the hero Toto, which at times almost seems like an Italian version of "Pipi Longstoking". However, unlike "Pipi", De Sica has a great sense for comedy and inventive ideas with a meaning, and many vignettes are downright hilarious: the bargaining of the two rich tycoons for a piece of land ends with the two men de facto grawling at each other; a man is chased away by a dozen of flying black hats; the slum organizes a "lottery", with the main prize being a cooked chicken, and pronounces the winning number is "90", but after nobody from the crowd replies, one desperate guy lamely says: "I have 89!". Always cheerful and with a blisful smile, the main hero Toto is the embodiment of innocence and thus truly refreshingly uncynical and honest, whereas one can analyze that he is not a real character anyway, but an allegory for happiness in modern times - he tries to cheer up the bums in the slum and even saves one man from suicide, telling him "life is beautiful". For all its escapist and idealistic tone, it seems De Sica actually hinted at a more sober message, namely that class difference and social justice can only be achieved in fairy tales, and not in our world.


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