Forget Roman Holiday, Milan is the backdrop to some of Italy’s finest classic cinema and modern drama. See 1960s Milan in a black and white romance, enter the corruption of Italian politics in an addictive Sky Italia series, and learn about Mussolini and modernism in a documentary from the BBC.
Miracolo in Milano (Miracle in Milan) (1951)
This heartwarming and critically acclaimed film belongs to the genre of neorealism, a much celebrated postwar genre of Italian cinema, characterised by stories set amongst the working classes and often filmed in real, poverty stricken locations. Miracolo in Milano takes the form of a fantastical fable, featuring white doves, magic powers and broomsticks. It follows the life of Totò, a baby found abandoned in a cabbage patch, who spends his young adult life in a destitute shantytown colony in the outskirts of Milan. A moral tale about power and kindness, the film is heavily critical of the behaviour of oil industrialists. On the year of its release, Miracolo in Milano received numerous awards including the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize.
Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) (1960)
Five brothers from Southern Italy move to the industrial North in search of prosperity. Director Luchino Visconti expertly weaves the individual narratives of each brother into a tense and emotionally charged story about love, family and the reality of migrant life in postwar Milan. The city appears both gritty and beautiful – brutality set against the facade of bleak cinderblock apartments, but also romance on top of the Duomo. 1960s sex symbol Alain Delon received critical acclaim for his portrayal as Rocco.
Il Ragazzo di Campagna (The Country Boy) (1984)
This comedy favourite tells the story of a young man from the country who swaps rural life for a shot in the ‘big city’. The gap between his countryside mentality and Milanese urban life underpins the film’s humour. The satirical slapstick is timeless, with many of the jokes about Milan as relevant as ever. In 2010, the film was included in an Italian comedy retrospective at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.
Vallanzasca – Gli Angeli del Male (Vallanzasca – The Angels of Evil) (2010)
Based on the biography of the notorious Milanese mobster Renato Vallanzasca, this is a fast-paced gangsta movie set in the 1970s. It chronicles the ascent of Vallanzasca (played by the charismatic Kim Rossi Stuart) and the Banda della Comasina, which dominated all of the northern neighbourhoods of Milan through drug and weapon trafficking and robbery.
Set chiefly in Milan and Rome, this hit Sky TV series is centred around the real life ‘Clean Hands’ scandal of 1992. The addictive drama exposes the corruption of political, business and civic life in 1990s Italy where mafia, politicians and police are embroiled in a power struggle. The cinematography is suitably sombre and dark, showing an alternative side to the featured cities.
Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism (2016)
This programme is part of a BBC documentary series about the architecture of 20th-century Europe’s fascist regimes. Presenter Jonathan Meade travels to Milan (as well as Rome, Genoa and more obscure locations) to observe key buildings constructed during Mussolini’s reign, which are known for a grandiose conflation of modernism and neo-classical design. The architecture is a material entry point to discuss the wider history of Mussolini’s regime, including its relationship with avant-garde art movement, Futurism that was founded in Milan.