This is the third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 3 is called "Italian Neorealism Week":
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the Italian Neorealism movement.
With Miracle in Milan, I have now seen 6 of the 32 movies on the above-mentioned list of Italian Neorealist films. I should probably branch out a bit more ... this is the third I've seen directed by Vittorio de Sica, including my favorite, Umberto D, while Roberto Rossellini directed the other three. Miracle in Milan had several components associated with Neorealism: filmed on location, with a blend of professional and non-professional actors, playing characters fighting poverty. What sets Miracle in Milan apart is de Sica's embrace of fantasy. The title is literally true: the film tells of a miracle that occurs in Milan.
Totò is a young man who lives in a squatter's community on the edge of Milan. Totò, an orphan originally taken in by a kindly old woman, has such an abundant exuberance about life that he helps bring the community together, with most of the people seeing the bright side of their situation. When oil is discovered on the land, the landowner uses police to force them out of their homes. And it's then that de Sica gives us something different. The old woman, who had long ago died, appears to Totò as an angel and gives him a dove that allows Totò to grant wishes. He proceeds to grant those wishes to pretty much everyone, changing the entire social order. Except then two other angels appear and take the dove back to heaven, the greedy landowner regains the upper hand, and all appears lost.
But de Sica finds one last magic trick to place in Totò's hands, and at the end, the squatters fly away on broomsticks, heading towards heaven. Which does seem to be quite a distance away from the settings of many neorealist films.
The atmosphere is overwhelmingly happy, and I admit that I soon tired of Totò (and the actor who plays him, Francesco Golisano). I found his endless optimism more annoying than transcendent. That could just be me, of course, and many have called Miracle in Milan a classic (it is #490 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the greatest films of all time). There is an intriguing trivia item on the IMDB: "The original planned ending for the film was to have the poor flying around the entire planet on broomsticks but being unable to land as everywhere had 'Private Property' signs. This was jettisoned as being too expensive and ambitious." If true, this is ironic indeed: an ending that further condemns the rich is bypassed because the filmmakers couldn't afford it.