This neorealist modern fairy tale from the director of 'The Bicycle Thief' is the sweet story of a boy called Totó. Found as a baby in a cabbage patch (the original Cabbage Patch Kid) and taken in by a loving but slightly dotty old woman, Totó ends up in an orphange when the old lady dies. When he leaves the orphanage as a young man, the sweet-natured boy finds himself staying in a shantytown with the homeless of Milan. A hurricane blows the shacks away, and Totó oversees the rebuilding of the area into a ramshackle but comfortable town, complete with street names, squares and even a statue, reclaimed from the rubbish.
All looks bright for the inhabitants, until the town proves to have lucrative hidden resources and rich developers try to evict the residents. When things look at their most hopeless, Totó receives a magic dove from the ghost of his dead adopted mother, and finds that he can work miracles.
There are lots of lovely, surreal moments in this film. When the homeless people (most of them real homeless people, it turns out, rather than actors) emerge from their draughty shelters into the snow, they all chase after a patch of sunlight, jumping up and down in a tight little pack. You find luxury in unusual places when you have nothing. There's also a rather touching (and for its time, quite subversive) minor sub-plot about the love between a black man and a white woman. They steal shy, loving glances, but don't dare talk to one another. When everyone is demanding fur coats and millions of pounds from Totó the miracle-worker, the black man asks to be made white. He's overjoyed when his wish is granted, and rushes to find the white woman. She's hurrying to find him too, but both of their faces fall when they see that she has had her wish to be made black granted. When two of the fur-coat wearing developers haggle over the price of the land, their staccato calling out of prices turns into the barking of dogs.