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Film / Miracle in Milan

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Miracle in Milan is a 1951 film from Italy directed by Vittorio De Sica.

An old lady named Lolotta finds an infant in her cabbage patch. She immediately adopts him and names him Toto. Unfortunately, when Toto is a boy of six or so, Lolotta dies. With no one else to look after him, Toto is sent to an orphanage.

The film covers nothing of his time in the orphanage, instead cutting directly to Toto's release as a young man. A cheerful, affable sort, and a natural leader—and possibly with magic powers—Toto makes his way to a homeless camp on the outskirts of Milan. Rather than go into the town and get a job, Toto settles into the homeless camp. With his charm and good nature, he winds up being their de facto leader. He transforms their miserable field of rabbit warrens into something approaching an actual neighborhood, with sheets of tin and stray lumber cobbled into houses. However, the discovery of oil under their little village threatens to disrupt the camp and destroy all of Toto's good work.



  • Age Cut:
    • From Toto as a baby, cut to a boiling pot on the stove, cut to Toto as a child of five or so.
    • Toto enters the orphanage. Cut to Toto leaving the orphanage, at least ten years older.
  • Balloonacy: One of the homeless, who apparently makes a little money selling balloons, is almost carried away by a not-that-large bundle of balloons.
  • Call-Back:
    • A wholly insincere Motti, the rich creep who bought the land, tells the people in the camp that he won't screw them over, that he's a person with a nose and five fingers just like them. Later, when Motti's flunky shows up with orders for the homeless to clear out, Toto pointedly counts the five fingers on his hand before saying he doesn't believe Motti would do that.
    • In one scene a guy from a chocolate company shows up and pays the beggars a little money, in return for them saying "Faro Chocolate is the best, God bless you!". One beggar can't say it as he has a severe stammer, so he gets no money. He later wishes for the magic dove to cure his stammer, which it does, leaving the man to walk away saying "Faro Chocoloate is the best, God bless you" over and over again.
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  • Capitalism Is Bad: The rich industrialists of Milan don't just neglect the homeless; they actually destroy their camp when oil is discovered underneath it.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Urban Fantasy kicks in when the ghost of Toto's grandma descends from heaven and gives him a magic dove that can grant wishes. It gets wackier when we find out that Lolotta stole the dove; two angels follow in her wake, trying to take the dove back.
  • Doorstop Baby: Found in a cabbage patch. It's implied that Toto may be not of this world.
  • Flying Broomstick: Everybody is being hauled off to jail when Lolotta returns the magic dove. Toto uses it to let them all out of the police paddy wagons. They all then grab the brooms that the street sweepers are using in the square, and fly away.
  • Gift of the Magi Plot: There's a black man in the camp (apparently an American soldier who never left), who is sweet on a white lady—but this is 1951 Italy so Maligned Mixed Marriage applies. He asks Toto to use the magic dove to make him white, and he gets his wish. He then goes to meet his girl—and discovers that she has used the magic dove to turn herself black.
  • Greed:
    • There's obviously Motti the businessman, only too willing to drive the homeless people out and destroy their community so he can make money on oil.
    • Interestingly, there's also the homeless people. Once they find out about the magic dove that grants wishes, they start demanding all sorts of fripperies, like fur coats and fancy dresses and, eventually, straight cash.
  • High-Class Glass: If it weren't already obvious that Motti the businessman is evil, he sports a monocle when he first arrives at the homeless camp he has just bought.
  • Impoverished Patrician: One family comes to live in the homeless camp, which means they must have fallen pretty far in the world—but they still have a maid. The wife desperately tries to play the part of a Grande Dame, bossing the maid around and acting haughty, despite the fact that they're all living in a tin shack.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The sweet, kindly Toto, who is always nice to everybody and has a gentle smile. At one point some of the homeless speculate that he must be a saint.
  • Italian Neorealism: De Sica was known for this (Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves) and this film is in many ways another typical example, with a simple story of the urban poor played out with a mostly amateur cast. However in this film the gritty realism is mixed with Urban Fantasy in an odd way.
  • King of the Homeless: Certainly a benevolent one, who may even be a magic spirit. But Toto does become leader of the homeless camp.
  • Lonely Funeral: The actual funeral isn't shown, but when old Lolotta is taken away to the cemetery, little Toto is the only person following the hearse.
  • Make a Wish: The ghost of Lolotta brings Toto a magic dove from heaven. The dove can grant any wish. Toto uses the dove to drive Motti's stormtroopers out of the camp, but after the bad guys are gone, the homeless people nearly riot as they demand Toto use the dove to give them all sorts of luxuries.
  • Natural Spotlight: In one odd sequence, the sun peeks through the clouds like a spotlight, and the bums shuffle around, crowding the very small, spotlight-sized circles of light so they can get some warmth. (Was it that overcast in Milan?)
  • Once Upon a Time: The film starts out with those exact words, marking this story as a fairy tale.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: Motti the industrialist, who is obviously terrified of the homeless folk, is mopping his sweaty brow after his first encounter with them.
  • Red Herring: It's vaguely implied that Toto might be a magical being—he arrives in a cabbage patch, and in one scene he seems to use telekinesis to pick up his suitcase. But this is never followed up on and the miracle, when it comes, comes via the ghost of his adopted mom.
  • Riding into the Sunset: Flying into the sunset, as Toto and the gang use the magic dove to fly away towards the sun on their flying broomsticks.
  • Urban Fantasy: Well, there's Toto's origin, how he just appears in a cabbage patch. One scene hints that he might have super-strength (a group of laborers are struggling with an iron rod, until Toto helps them pick it up with ease), and right after that there's a blink-and-miss-it moment where Toto's suitcase moves without him touching it. This becomes much more overt later in the film, however, when the ghost of Lolotta appears and gives Toto the magic dove, which he uses to grant the wishes of the homeless in the camp.
  • Urban Segregation: A grim homeless camp, on the far outskirts of Milan.
  • Wonder Child: Toto is found as a baby by the elderly, childless Lolotta in a cabbage patch. Nothing is ever said of his biological parents, and despite being orphaned at a young age, he grows up into a young man with an implausible saintly personality and possible magical powers who betters the life of an entire community.