The Herald: August 2010
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(Italian with English subtitles)
Directed by Marco Bellocchio
Starring: Filippo Timi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Michela Cescon, Fabrizio Costella, Fausto Russo Alesi, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Corrado Invernizzi
Director Marco Bellocchio encountered the story of Ida Dalser, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s alleged wife and the mother of his first-born son, through a documentary for Italian television. While no official documentation of the marriage exists, Dalser vehemently maintained (even through numerous incarcerations in mental institutions and rejections by Il Duce himself) that she was the Italian leader’s wife. Vincere (meaning, To Win) views the story of Mussolini and Dalser’s love affair through the prism of the rise of Fascism in Italy while also questioning the methods by which historical records represent, remember or obscure.
Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) and Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) meet in Trent in 1907, as Benito is fleeing police. He pulls Dalser into a shadowy corner and, pretending to be an amorous couple, escapes the police. Dalser closely follows the brazen young leader, shadowing him at Socialist Party meetings. At one such meeting, Mussolini causes an uproar when he pulls out a watch and declares that God has five minutes to strike him dead in order to prove His existence. While the men in the room scramble to grab Mussolini by the collar, Ida smiles beatifically at him – she sells her shop, jewelry and apartment to bankroll his newspaper Il Popolo di Italia.
The first half of the film is non-linear, presenting a series of moments between the two lovers. The narrative skips back and forth somewhat confusingly, with Bellochio acknowledging certain historical markers, such as Mussolini’s expulsion from the Socialist Party and World War 1.
As Mussolini progresses on the path to power, Ida finds herself abandoned with a young son – she refuses to disappear into obscurity like the many women in Mussolini’s past and her insistence makes her an embarrassing element from the leader’s past. By 1922, Mussolini is dictator of Italy and has taken an official first wife, Rachele (Michela Cescon). Ida and her son, Benito Albino (Fabrizio Costella), are conveniently dispatched to the countryside where she continues to wait for summons to return to Il Duce’s life.
Bellochio’s film does not minutely trace Mussolini’s rise to power nor does the director explore the elements of the Fascist regime in Italy – he is more interested in the tenacity of a woman who lost her son and spent a significant part of her life in brutal mental institutions through her insistence on a relationship which those around her believe to be the figment of a schizophrenic imagination. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is gripping as Ida Dalser, perfectly matched by the brooding Filippo Timi as Benito Mussolini (who also strikingly resembles Il Duce).
Vincere manipulates and appropriates a great deal of archival footage to personalize Ida’s story – footage of Mussolini’s speeches or parades was speeded up, enlarged or slowed down, in order to enhance the narrative. ‘To my mind simply recreating all the characters and events through fiction and performances only would have been unsatisfactory,’ Bellochio explains.
The film is ultimately a gripping exploration of memory and the influence of power on remembrance. As Ida says to her psychiatrist, ‘If I do not continue to shout, to rebel, nobody will remember me.’