It is not the place of a film critic to enter into discussions of dogma, and the religious implications and repercussions of Roberto Rossellini‘s extraordinary new picture are things than can safely be left to others. The British Board of Film Censors, as you know, have refused to grant the film a certificate, and it is being shown in London under L.C.C. licence. Whether you align yourself with the B.B.F.C. or the L.C.C. in this case must be a matter for individual judgment; but from whatsoever angle you regard this film as doctrine, there can be little doubt, I think, of its shining merit as a film.
The Miracle is quite short; that is to say, it runs for barely forty minutes. It is a composition written for the performance of a solo actress, and the director has frankly dedicated his work “to the art of Anna Magnani.” That is one of the few advantages the cinema has over other media of interpretation — a piece designed for a certain player will continue to be performed by that player; at every show, at every time, and in every country. There can be no manhandling of the part by inferior performers, and the first reading, which is presumably just as the author wants it, remains the last.
This is particularly important in the case of The Miracle, which would be unthinkable without an actress of the power and delicacy of Magnani. What a part! What a test of perception, and accomplishment, and courage! What a test of sheer, hard, disciplined acting, which must employ every device of highly specialised technical training to give an effect of utter simplicity!
Magnani‘s command of this enormously difficult part is superb. Her grip on it never for a moment falters. She acts with her face, her limbs, her voice and every inch of her body, and it is not afraid to revert to inarticulate animal noise when the pain reaches its climax. Rossellini need hardly have dedicated his film to the art of Magnani. The art of Magnani is the film.
C. A. Lejeune
London, February 1950