Director: Marco Bellocchio | 128 minutes | drama, biography, history | Actors: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michela Cescon, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Paolo Pierobon, Bruno Cariello, Francesca Picozza, Simona Nobili, Giovanna Mori, Silvia Ferretti, Corinne Castelli, Patrizia Bettini, Fabrizio Costella Dell’Erba, Benito Mussolini, Matteo Mussoni, Elena Presti
From time to time a film appears in which everything is just right. Great beautiful images, an idiosyncratic direction that does not always make it easy for the viewer, top-level acting by all actors involved, not to mention a good story. For good stories, Italy can draw richly from a long history of fascinating and controversial events.
“Vincere” is about one of the most controversial episodes Italy has known. Veteran director Marco Bellocchio has made a film with “Vincere” that does not directly comment on the Italian fascism of Il Duce Mussolini, but focuses on the tragic relationship between the young Benito and his mistress Ida Dalser. Ida would maintain until her death that she was married to, and had a child by, the man who would later become the “great leader” of Italy. In the first part of Bellocchio’s masterpiece, the director uses a changing visual language: slowly drawn-out lovemaking scenes without musical accompaniment are followed by fragmentary cut scenes of demonstrating crowds over which almost ghostly Mussolini’s rhetorical monologues are echoed. These subdued and then baroque images are in turn interrupted by original black and white images of a fast-moving industrial Italy (read factories, factory pipes and a lot of smoke) with a number of intertitles that pop across the image as if we were looking at a combination of Fritz Langs. ‘Metropolis’ and an old-fashioned newsreel are watching, enhanced by bombastic opera. It is clear that we are witnessing a drama in the making, but delivered with a playfulness with which Bellocchio transcends the actual enumeration of events in the love affair between Benito and Ida. While Ida is completely blinded by her Benito, he is completely in tune with the greatest political upheavals of his time.
Filippo Timi almost plays Mussolini like a silent film actor. During intercourse he practically does not make contact with Ida but silently raises his gaze. With theatrically turning eyes, he seems to prefer to link his sexual pleasure to a vision of a higher and greatest future that he sees in store for himself and for which the time seems to be right. Time is depicted here with similarly theatrical symbolism through passing mist or clouds of smoke. For example, there is a scene where Mussolini and Ida are about to walk out of a building, but then they see in the doorway that the street is shrouded in a thick fog. Mussolini holds back out of uncertainty. What will the future bring? With Ida by his side, he finally dares to step into the nebula with determination. It is the independent woman Ida Dalser (here uniquely played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who, by selling her beauty salon Mussolini, provides the necessary financial support for his own newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, but thereby wastes her own future. A later scene is mirrored on this. Due to the impact of grenades, a passage is shrouded in thick clouds of dust. Frightened passers-by run in all directions in terror. Finally, Ida also emerges from the enormous clouds of dust, undaunted behind her pram and still with a determined stride, but without her beloved Mussolini. When Mussolini returns injured from World War I, he chooses for political reasons to deny his relationship (or never proven marriage) with Ida. Benito marries another woman and disappears from her life and with it from the movie. Ida, her son and the viewer only see Benito again as Il Duce in the newsreel, an official portrait on the wall or an enormous carved head in the boarding school where son Benito junior is tucked away.
Bellocchio slightly adjusts the direction and editing in the second part of the film and gives Giovanna Mezzogiorno every opportunity to showcase her talent and make us feel the pain of Ida’s tragic fate. Ida does not want to accept Mussolini’s indifference and tries to draw attention to her situation through all kinds of possible authorities, such as the Pope and the king. This annoyance of the people who try to protect Il Duce’s immaculate image and eventually hide her in an institution. Separated from her son and denied a future, Ida persists to the bitter end. And precisely this obsessive “stubbornness” of Ida to keep seeking confrontation creates a field of tension that n our sympathy for Ida is tested. Mezzogiorno knows how to portray this complicated character with breathtakingly intense intensity and thus makes no small contribution to the success of this film. “Vincere” is one such film that reminds us that cinema can be an unforgettable experience and thereby also shows that Italian cinema is still capable of delivering a masterpiece from time to time.