Friday, May 24, 2024

2024 Cannes Marathon: Miracle in Milan


(Co-Winner of the Palme d’Or with Miss Julie and Othello at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the novel Toto il Buono by Cesare Zavattini, Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) is the story of a group of vagabonds who create a shantytown for themselves where they make a major discovery in the hopes they can keep it away from rich land developers. Directed by Vittorio de Sica and screenplay by de Sica and Zavattini with additional contributions from Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Mario Chiari, and Adolfo Franci, the film is a mixture of Italian neorealism and fantasy as it plays into a group of people who want to create a home as they also encounter miracles that would enrich their lives. Starring Francesco Golisano, Emma Gramatica, Paolo Stoppa, Guglielmo Barnabo, Brunella Bovo, Anna Carena, and Alba Arnova. Miracolo a Milano is an extraordinarily rich and enchanting film by Vittorio de Sica.

The film revolves around a young man who was found by an old woman as a baby as he would eventually be raised in an orphanage and live in a shantytown with a group of vagabonds as they make some discoveries that would help them. It is a film that mixes elements of fantasy and reality where the latter takes hold as it takes place in a shantytown near downtown Milan where this young man provides a sense of hope for these poor people living on the outskirts of the city. The film’s screenplay by Vittorio de Sica and Cesare Zavattini is straightforward in its narrative as it begins with this old lady Lolotta (Emma Gramatica) finding a baby in her garden as she would name him Toto and raise him through childhood until the age of eleven as he is sent to an orphanage following her death. Upon becoming a man, Toto (Francesco Golisano) deals with his surroundings yet remains upbeat over his new phase in his life where he meets a vagabond who takes his small suitcase but is shocked by Toto’s kindness as they share a shanty outside of the city.

Toto would help create and expand the shantytown that would include people who were once rich including a young woman named Edvige (Brunella Bovo) whom Toto falls for. During a party, a maypole strikes the ground where oil is sprouting out of the ground as it changes the fortunes of the people in the shantytown though one of them in Rappi (Paolo Stoppa) informs the land developer Mobbi (Guglielmo Barnabo) about the oil near his land. While Toto does manage to charm Mobbi in an earlier meeting, he is unable to stop Mobbi from trying to get rid of all the people in the shantytown where a series of strange events happen.

The direction of de Sica is entrancing for the way he blends elements of neorealism with fantasy to explore the needs that a person should have no matter how much or how little they have. Shot on location near the Lambrate railway station in Milan, de Sica does maintain a sense of space into how big the shantytown area is as well as how it is disconnected from the main part of the city. While there are a lot of wide shots that de Sica create to display the scope of the shantytown as well as areas near Milan. The film emphasizes more close-ups and medium shots to play into the number of people in a frame as well as some of the emotional aspects the characters embark on. Notably as de Sica maintains a realism in using actual locations as well as non-professional actors in how they would interact with their surroundings or the miracles they encounter.

The direction also plays into these social politics as it relates to land developers trying to get rid of the people in the shantytowns though Toto would charm Mobbi in how a bonfire can lift spirits or at a later meeting where they all drink tea in Mobbi’s office unaware of his motives. Once Mobbi decides to act, the elements of surrealism and fantasy arrive where these odd things happen that would baffle the police as it is all told through humor. Even as Toto would be granted something from his late mother as it would play into the things that the vagabonds would want though there is a moment in which an African (Jerome Johnson) makes a wish to be with a white woman (Flora Cambi) who also makes a wish as it is this terrible moment of blackface. Despite that one bad scene, de Sica does highlight a young man who is filled with goodness though what he wants are quite simple scenes as its ending is about all these people going into a place where there are no social classes or possessions as it is an element of fantasy. Yet, de Sica brings in a sense of hope as it is told in a grand style at the city square where the city’s Cathedral stands. Overall, de Sica crafts a majestic and whimsical film about a young man who brings joy to a group of people in a shantytown where miracles happen.

Cinematographer Aldo Graziati does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its usage of light and shadows for some scenes at night along with bits of natural and artificial lighting for some of the daytime exterior scenes along with some special effects camera work by Vaclav Vich and Enzo Barboni for some of the film’s unique visual effect scenes as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Eraldo Da Roma does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play for some of the film’s whimsical visual effects scenes as well as some straightforward cuts to play into the drama and humor. Art director Guido Fiorini does amazing work with the look of the shantytowns with the small shacks that are built as well as the interior of Mobbi’s office. Costume designer Mario Chiari does fantastic work with the costumes as a lot of is ragged and such apart from some of the finer clothing that a character wished for since she used to be an aristocrat.

The sound work of Bruno Brunacci, with additional work for the film’s restoration by Antonio Catalano, is superb for some of the sound effects that occur in the film along with the usage of natural sound to capture the sense of joy within the crowd. The film’s music by Alessandro Cicognini is wonderful for its orchestral-based score filled with flourishing string arrangements and playful woodwind pieces as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Jerome Johnson as an African vagabond who is in love with a white woman, Flora Cambi as a maid for an aristocratic woman who is in love with the black man, Gianni Branduani as the 11-year old Toto, Angelo Prilo as a police commander, Checco Rissone as the second-in-command, Arturo Bragaglia and Erminio Spalla as a couple of vagabonds that are close friends of Toto, Virgilio Riento as a police sergeant who comes to the shantytown late in the film where he gets his own wish, and Alba Arnova as a ballerina statue who comes to life. Anna Carena is terrific as an aristocratic woman in Signora Altezzosa as a woman who was once rich as she deals with living in a shantytown while hoping to go back to her old world and wear the finest gowns out there. Guglielmo Barnabo is fantastic as Mobbi as a land developer who wants to buy the land where the shantytown is where is charmed by Toto only to scheme his way into buying the land while he becomes baffled by the miracles that is happening on the land.

Brunella Bovo is excellent as Edvige as a young woman from a poor family who falls for Toto as someone who would also ground Toto once he becomes this figure of hope in the film’s third act it is this radiant performance from Bovo. Emma Gramatica is brilliant in her small role as Lolotta as the woman who found the baby Toto as well as raise him while later appearing in the film’s third function as an angel. Paolo Stoppa is amazing as Rappi as a scheming vagabond who wants to be part of the rich society where he would sell out the vagabonds only to later realize that materialism is fleeting. Finally, there’s Francesco Golisano in an incredible performance as Toto as this young and upbeat man who is full of life and joy that often sees the best in people as well as trying to get those who are down to see the little things that make people happy.

Miracolo a Milano is a phenomenal film from Vittorio de Sica. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a story of hope and miracle in a dreary world, and a charming musical score. The film is a delightful mixture of fantasy and neorealism set in a world outside of the city as it plays into the ideas of how simple things can make the poorest feel rich. In the end, Miracolo a Milano is a sensational film from Vittorio de Sica.

Vittorio De Sica Films: (Rose scarlatte) - (Maddalena, zero in condotta) - (Teresa Venerdi) - (Un garibaldino al convento) - (The Children Are Watching Us) - (La porta del cielo) - (Shoeshine) - (Heart and Soul (1948 film)) - Bicycle Thieves - Umberto D. - (It Happened in the Park) - (Terminal Station) - (The Gold of Naples) - (The Roof) - (Anna of Brooklyn) - Two Women (1960 film) - (The Last Judgment) - (Boccaccio ‘70) - (The Condemned of Altona) - (Il Boom) - Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - Marriage Italian Style - (Un monde nouveau) - (After the Fox) - (Woman Times Seven) – The Witches-An Evening Like the Others - (A Place for Lovers) - (Sunflowers (1970 film)) – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - (Lo chiameremo Andrea) - (A Brief Vacation) - (The Voyage)

© thevoid99 2024


Ruth said...

This sounds like a fascinating story, with a blend of neorealism with fantasy. Great idea of reviewing previous Cannes winners, Steven!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-You're welcome. I hope to do a few more before the end of the month as I had plans to do more but I was exhausted in dealing with my niece and nephew who are running wild.