Obsession, madness, and Mussolini

Posted: April 02, 2010

A gorgeous operatic tale of obsession and madness, the swirling Vincere is based on the little-known relationship between Benito Mussolini, Italy's swaggering dictator, and Ida Dalser, the woman he wed, fathered a child with, and then coldly abandoned as he goose-stepped his way through the pages of history.

Told from Ida's point of view - a beautiful performance from Giovanna Mezzogiorno - Vincere, from veteran director Marco Bellocchio, follows this young woman as she meets, and melts before, the charismatic young Mussolini. It is 1904, in Trent, Austria: He is a radical socialist organizing workers and railing against the existence of God. Then, in 1917 in Milan, they cross paths again (he's fleeing from a cordon of police). The attraction is palpable. They make love. It's a union that seems forged in fire, to burn furiously forever.

But that's hardly the case. As Mussolini shifts political and philosophical positions from socialism to fascism, cynically aligning himself with the Catholic Church, he leaves Ida and his little Benito behind. For good.

Ida, stunned and hurt, watches as her furiously magnetic lover marries another, has children, ascends to lead his nation: Il Duce, his right hand angled high in that fascist salute. And Ida goes from forced isolation to institutionalization - as her entreaties to meet with Mussolini are ignored, as her relentless insistence that she is his spouse is perceived as the plaints of a madwoman, as her son, too, is taken from her and kept hidden away.

With wild collages of newsreel footage, swirling newspaper headlines, text, and music, Bellocchio fashions a melodrama of epic proportions. Mezzogiorno is terrific as this strong, lovely woman whose spirit cannot be broken, even as everything of importance in her life is taken away, destroyed. Vincere - which means "win" - is winning stuff, a tumultuous tragedy, and majestic moviemaking to boot.

               

Note: Nicola Gentili, associate director of the cinema studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, will speak about Vincere and lead a discussion after the 7 p.m. show Saturday.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.

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