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Andrea Di Stefano,
The story of Ida Dalser, who fell in love with the future Italian Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, supported him while he was unemployed in the early 1910s, and married him, presumably around 1914. She bore Mussolini a son, Benito Albino, before the outbreak of World War I. The two lost touch during the war years and, upon discovering him again in a hospital during the war, she also discovered Rachele Guidi, who had married Mussolini in 1915, and a daughter born in 1910 when Guidi and Mussolini were living together. Historically, following his political ascendancy, Mussolini suppressed the information about his first marriage and he (through the Fascist party) persecuted both his first wife and oldest son and committed them forcibly to asylums.
"Vincere" is an artful biopic that tells the story of Benito Mussolini's mistress and perhaps first wife, Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). The film jumps around the time line, mainly from the point of view of Ida, with a mixture of heated political rallies and shout fests, intense love scenes (mostly early in the movie, hidden in darkness), real footage of a pompous Mussolini, and operatic melodrama.
It's not a biopic of Mussolini, but we see glimpses of his early socialist and atheist convictions, his conversion to fascism, and his eventual support for the church (for politically expedient purposes until old age, judging from the history). We hear Mussolini dream of an Italy that surpasses morality and brings about fundamental changes. He's not specific, but he doesn't want to become like average folk. He wants to outdo even Napoleon.
The film follows a TV documentary and two books about Ida, based on reporting by Marco Zeni. In the reports, Ida Dalser claims she married Benito Mussolini in 1914. She also had a son with him, named Benito Albino Mussolini. Historians don't have direct evidence she married Mussolini, but they have evidence he accepted responsibility for their son. For unknown reasons, he left her a year later and married Rachele Guidi after returning from the war.
According to the history (not the film), his last mistress, Clara Petacci, was executed (by firing squad) and hung upside down in the Piazza Loreto (Milan) along with him. Ida might have had that to look forward to if she had been by his side (she doesn't seem like a stay at home or turn a blind eye type of wife – she would have been with him). Tragic madness is a common theme in drama, and Ida Dalser arguably has a touch of madness. Her love affair with Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) operatically moves from intense devotion to angry feud. She sells everything to fund his newspaper, gives him a son, and attempts to force him to divorce his wife and return her to her rightful place by his side. She won't even think of another man. Is it love, true devotion, or revenge?
Most of the film tracks Ida Dalser in extremes of emotion, especially as corrupt Fascists suppress her and take her to a madhouse. She writes to everyone to try to publicize her marriage, including the pope, and she drags her son to Mussolini to dramatically express her outrage. My first thought in trying to describe Ida was, well, at least she didn't kill her son to get back at him. The movie doesn't explicitly depict her doing anything this mischievous, or perhaps the unthinkable is possible.
Did she succeed in sacrificing her son to get back at Mussolini? It's possible she embellished her relationship with Mussolini and her extreme conviction rubbed off on her son. The odd thing is that this interpretation fits with Giovanna Mezzogiorno's compelling performance of Ida throughout the film. She seems in love with more than Mussolini. She wants to stand by his side and be the public wife of a dictator. For example, she won't consider signing a power of attorney to help provide financially for her son because it might be seen by (her imagined) Mussolini as disloyalty. She refuses to lie about her marriage to return home for the sake of her son.
At a minimum, she was adamant in trying to embarrass Mussolini, and she did so despite the welfare of her son. (History is less fair to Ida than the film since it also implicates her publicly denouncing Mussolini as a traitor.) She's noble in her resoluteness to truth (if the marriage is true, of course). But why wouldn't she move on when Mussolini has already married someone else? Is a country better off when political scandals come out about a politician's personal love affairs? Is her resoluteness to truth really a resoluteness to power and status, or revenge?
It's easier to feel sympathy for her since the Fascists also abused their power beyond any respect for justice. The film doesn't necessarily demonize Mussolini. But only someone as powerful and ruthless as a dictator is able to persecute and silence his accusers (whether wife and son, or otherwise) rather than face them in court. It's a clear case of corruption and abuse of power.
We could go back and forth between the two sides eternally. If she had remained silent, she wouldn't have been in an asylum in the first place, and Fascist doctors wouldn't have been around to try to force her to lie about her marriage. However, she wouldn't have ended up in an asylum in a just and moral country. But sometimes it's best to remain silent about some truths if they aren't in your (or your son's) best interest. And so on. The film allows you to make your own interpretation and to spread the blame around as you like. The musical score has a beautiful (and loud) recurring piece that builds up dramatically and ends in low scratchy strings. The film begins and transitions emphatically, almost mimicking Mussolini's exclamation of "boom, boom, boom" as he praises a painting. It plays like a silent film in some sequences, such as a comical scene of political advocates fighting with one another as silhouettes in front of a classic movie projector.
Some of the sets nicely recreate Italy of the time period (Mussolini's duel, with factories in the background, is one of the best), but you don't get a chance to linger on them and the lighting is dark. It would be interesting to compare the film on DVD to the version played at theaters to see if the DVD is any darker than intended. As it is, it's best to view the film in complete darkness to get the benefit of its subtle lighting.
Note: The subtitles translate "Vincere" as a verb, meaning "to win".
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