During War World II, Vittorio De Sica was approached by Goebbels to help relaunch the Italian film industry under the auspices of Musolini’s puppet regime. In order to escape collaboration with the Nazis, De Sica quickly invented the project “La porta del cielo” a film about religious miracles funded by the Vatican. Appalled by their plight during the German occupation of Rome, De Sica cast many Jews in the film to spare them from Nazi persecution, extending the shoot until the American allies arrived in the capital.
There are two stories here; one is the film, itself, and the other is the much more interesting part of how the film was made. First, the film was anything but fake. It was called La Porta del Cielo (The Gate of Heaven). It was underwritten by the production company, Orbis, a subsidiary of the Vatican’s Centro Cattolico Cinematografico, and was intended to be an inspiring film about a train full of sick and infirm on their way to the sanctuary of Loreto in expectation of being miraculously healed. Shooting of the film began in February 1944 in Rome and was not yet complete by June 5, 1944, the date on which Allied Forces finally liberated the city. What went on behind the scenes in those five months is the real story. (La Porta del Cielo was eventually released in 1945, just days before the end of WWII in Europe. It has been held to be somewhat of a “lost” De Sica film and has now been the subject of quite a bit of critical scrutiny as a good candidate for being the beginning of Italian Neo-Realism.)