The rich vein of sly, compassionate humor found in Vittorio De Sica's "Nights of Cabiria," along with a tapping from Charlie Chaplin's best satiric films, have been blended into another De Sica masterpiece in his 1951 Italian fantasy, "Miracle in Milan" - the next Club Indigo at the Calumet Theatre (Friday the 14th).
The time is 1951, while Italy still struggled from the ravages of WWII, with - as in "Cabiria" - poor people had to scrape by in any manner possible to keep body and soul together. Also, as in "Cabiria," they do so in ways that are wildly varied, sometimes shocking or navely pragmatic - rising to meet all occasions in order to survive.
Surviving among one such group living together in the outskirts of Rome is a teenager, Toto, a bright and optimistic orphan who notes the dreariness of life among the small community and sets himself to spread sunshine. He teaches them to be positive and cheerful, to make the most of what little they have, to improve their communal life, and to trust everyone - until they strike oil!
Enter a greedy capitalist who buys the land and brings in the militia to oust Toto and his friends. A hilarious fight ensues, with - no kidding - heaven on the side of the outcasts. What happens after that is the miracle of the title - something so amazing and unexpected that filmmaker Steven Spielberg re-worked it for the final scene in one of his most successful movies. The result in this film is pure bliss - the creation of a feel good gem!
De Sica uses his ability to wreak beautiful portrayals from his cast, which ranges from children to married couples, to the aged, to war vets - all arrestingly Italian and far from typical.
The beginning is nothing short of brilliant. In Chaplinesque manner, he reveals a little old lady finding a baby (Toto) in her garden. With tender and guileless devotion she picks it up and dances with joy among her plants. As Toto grows up she teaches him to be kind, to greet everyone with "buon giorno," and to make sport of any mishaps that might occur.
In another wonderful scene, to eke out a living a couple "stage" a sunset at dusk, lining up chairs and collecting pennies to view it from their vantage point on a hillock. Sunset over, the people applaud, then leave contentedly for their humble shacks below.
When Toto's adopted mother dies, she sneaks down from heaven with the gift of a white dove that grants wishes, until forced to return it to heaven - after surprisingly fascinating wishes have been granted - all leading to the final deus ex machina miracle.
Emotionally gripping are the faces and personalities of the people, especially Toto, as well as the amusing contrast of the ever optimistic downtrodden folks and the greedy smugness of the capitalist.
Winner of the Golden Palm award at Cannes, the movie went on to win one world prize after another - and to this day it has lost none of its glow. Few movies have aroused such reactions as one critic who admitted, "I watch this film every couple of years, and it always makes me jump and squeal with glee at the end." Leonard Maltin in his Guide to Movies gave it four stars, summarizing it as a "biting comic condemnation of the manner in which displaced Italians were treated after the war." And so it is, as molded into a fine anti-war film in the Italian "neo-realist" style.
"Miracle in Milan" will be shown at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an Italian buffet from the chefs at Carmelita's. The movie has been sponsored by ThermoAnalytics of Franklin Mine location. Cost for buffet and movie is $18, while the movie alone is $5. Children's discounts are offered for this G-rated film.
Seating for the buffet can be arranged with a call to the Calumet Theatre at least a day in advance at 337-2610.
Rotten Tomato average: R-rated "50/50," B