Sometimes titled Cinderella, Italian Style, the 1967 Italian fantasy drama More Than a Miracle is an odd take on fairy tale material. It stars Sophia Loren as a headstrong Italian peasant whose life is turned upside down when a self-involved Spanish prince (Omar Sharif) wanders into her life, believing that she is using the horse that got away from him in her field. Prince Rodrigo had just come from a Catholic mission where he witnessed a priest flying through the air. Though strangely unmoved by this miraculous sight, Rodrigo does take the monk's advice about instructing any woman he is interested in marrying to cook him seven dumplings. After arguing with and chasing Isabella (Loren) around her farm, he implores the beauty to cook this meal. It's the first of many tasks she gets wrong.
The rest of More Than a Miracle is a back-and-forth between the two stubborn lovers, with Isabella trying to get in the running for the throne, a competition that involves seven other legitimate princesses. She will seek the aid of witches, street urchins, and eventually dress herself up as a monarch from an unknown country. Her determination earns her no fans amongst the women surrounding Rodrigo, including his mother (legendary Mexican actress Dolores del Rio, Cheyenne Autumn), but the Prince likes the challenge this voluptuous spitfire offers. Unsurprisingly, given the storybook tone, that dogged commitment wins the day.
More Than a Miracle is directed by Francesco Rosi, who is better known for more realistic docudramas like Salvatore Guiliano and Many Wars Ago. His grimy sense of detail makes for an odd pairing with the royal love affair presented here. More Than a Miracle's would-be lovers are, more often than not, dusty and sweaty, and the kingdom Rodrigo presides over is nothing to be proud of. It's pretty rundown. If Rosi was attempting to make a statement by juxtaposing the dirty reality of the 17th Century and the exaggerated fantasy many have regarding olden times, it doesn't exactly work. There is no real reconciliation of what an absolute bastard Rodrigo is and the "do anything for love" message Isabella is given by a passing saint, who flies down to stop her from drowning herself in the sea. Not unless you believe both religion and marriage to be a terrible idea.
Loren is, of course, marvellous to watch and to look at, but More Than a Miracle never really gels around her. Rather, it's a bit of a mess, the comic episodes seeming a lot less funny when intertwined with the mean streak that bleeds through every scene right up to the very end. For a love story, More Than a Miracle is something less than romantic.
Warner Archives has released More Than a Miracle as a widescreen DVD. The image transfer is all right. Colors seem a bit muted, and there are surface marks and dirt on the print through most of the movie, all of which makes for a rather underwhelming manufacture-on-demand disc.
The mono soundtrack sounds fine, if maybe a tad muffled.
Just a theatrical trailer.
Rent It. Fans of Sophia Loren will enjoy the actress' feisty performance in More Than a Miracle, as well as some of the set pieces she gets to play around in, but the film itself doesn't really hold together. This attempt to meld an old-fashioned fairy tale with a shabby modern chic lacks the clear vision of someone like a Jacques Demy, who played with some similarly dark material in Donkey Skin just a couple of years later. Esteemed director Francesco Rosi is much better when his camera is more tightly focused on the real world. Here he just fumbles to find the right tone, and thus wastes the tremendous talent of his lead actress.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.