aka Cinderella – Italian Style (C’Era Una Volta)
Director – Francesco Rosi, Screenplay – Rosi, Giuseppe Patrino Griffi, Tonino Guerra & Raffaele la Capria, Story – Guerra, Producer – Carlo Ponti, Photography – Pasquale de Santis, Music – Piero Piccioni, Art Direction – Piero Poletto. Production Company – C.C. Champion S.p.A/Les Films Concordia
Sophia Loren (Isabella), Omar Sharif (Prince Ramon), Dolores del Rio (Prince’s Mother), Leslie French (Brother Joseph)
The handsome prince Ramon has his carefree life disrupted when his mother orders him to marry. He flees on his horse but is thrown from it. He comes to the cottage of the fiery peasant girl Isabella who has taken the horse and calls him a thief when he tries to reclaim it. They argue heatedly. He pretends to fall and break his neck whereupon he is buried alive. When she realises what has happened, Isabella contacts three witches who only make the situation worse. She gets a job in the palace kitchens in order to try and see him. He says he will select his bride by holding a dishwashing competition but the other princess’s vying for his hand determine to sabotage the contest for her.
Neither of this film’s English-language titles succeed in conveying its nature – More Than a Miracle tends to suggest a 1940s-styled supernatural whimsy a la Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941), while the alternate title Cinderella – Italian Style suggests it is a pornographic take on the fairy tale as a number of other films suffixed by Italian Style have been. Neither comes anywhere near describing it. Furthermore, the film is often mistaken as an adaptation of Cinderella although, short of the vague similarity of featuring a prince and peasant girl, this is not the case. In fact, pinpointing any type of label for More Than a Miracle is difficult. These days it would probably be lumped with the term Magical Realism that has popped up and is usually used to refer to in particular Latin American works of whimsy involving romance and commonplace magic or fabulism.
More Than a Miracle is an appealing effort. There is a decidedly bizarre imagination at work in the parade of flying monks, prophecies concerning apple dumplings, marriage partner determination by dishwashing contest and the cackling MacBeth witches the film trots out. Director Francesco Rosi films the bare sunburned Italian countryside with great effect.
Of course, the greatest thing the film has on show is the lovely Sophia Loren who brings an earthy sensuality and naturalism to the part of a peasant girl – there is a real fire to her performance that lights up the film. Omar Sharif has a handsome sexiness opposite her and he barnstorms admirably but the show remains hers. Sometimes the film lumbers – the dubbing tends to flatten some of the performances out – but it has the sheer sunniness of the open countryside, the voluptuous sensuality of Sophia Loren and manages to sparkle whenever it gets the chance to let its magic loose.