Judge Daryl Loomis would never leave his family, so long as they're okay with him turning Fascist.
Never forget me.
There's a good chance you don't know the name Ida Dalser, because that's the way Benito Mussolini wanted it. He'd deny it and have you arrested if you said anything, but she was Il Duce's first wife and the mother of his first born son. He married another woman, however, and as he rose to power, he did everything he could expunge her from his life and the public record. He would have made her disappear from history entirely if not, years later, for an Italian journalist who found an obscure report about Ida Dalser. Director Marco Bellocchino (Devil in the Flesh) has now given the woman a sad and beautiful voice in Vincere.
Facts of the Case
Even as a young Socialist, Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi, Saturn in Opposition) had a rare charisma. Just watching him rant made Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Love in the Time of Cholera) fall in love with him the second she saw him challenge God. He is obsessed with his politics, but Ida enthralls him and they begin a whirlwind romance just as the specter of world war falls over Italy. Mussolini enlists in the army and, soon, Ida discovers that she's pregnant. By the time he returns, he has a new wife and wants nothing to do with Ida or his young son, Benito Albino. Ida tries to force him to acknowledge his son, but the more she persists, the more Il Duce does to destroy her life. He finally commits her to an asylum where she can die out of his sight.
Mussolini wasn't big on talking about his time before becoming Italy's Fascist dictator, so exact details on his personal life as a young man aren't so easy to find. Using the factual information available to him, Bellocchino created a likely narrative of Il Duce's early days without worrying too much about getting everything exactly right. This is definitely the right call because, despite the liberties he may take with the facts, the story he tells resonates as both a failed romance and a story of a woman's drive to be heard.
The story is split fairly neatly into two parts: the relationship in progress and post-breakup. Bellocchino, in the beginning, does all he can to make us forget that Mussolini was a deranged monster to let us see him, at least for a little while, as a normal man, idealistic, passionate, and uncorrupted. Though we know what the man will turn into, the director is mostly successful in presenting him without the evil that would emerge as he gained power. As his relationship with Ida blossoms, so does war; Mussolini lusts after both, but they run in conflict with each other and we know which side wins out.
The second part carries a very different tone than the first. After he abandons Ida, Mussolini disappears almost entirely from the film. His name is mentioned (in growling, spiteful language), but he is off being Il Duce, not caring a bit about what he has done to his wife and child. We see what he's done, though, and through to the conclusion, we watch Ida suffer as she falls into abject poverty, has her child taken from her, and is institutionalized. She isn't crazy; she's a nuisance to the state. It would have been more humane just to have her assassinated, but Mussolini was a cruel man and instead wants to make her pay for the embarrassment she has caused him. Of course his actions make him a villain, but his lack of presence makes it worse for Ida. Were he in front of her, she could at least scream at him. All she can do, though, is cry in the asylum while she watches him parading around with his new family.
As a story, the first half is superior to the second, but the back half provides some of the most beautiful imagery of the film and is a better showcase for Giovanna Mezzogiorno's talents, so both parts have plenty of merit. The actress and her counterpart, Filippo Timi, have excellent chemistry and are blistering together. Mezzogiorno displays the same animalistic passion in love as in hate; this is really her film. Timi is good, both as Il Duce and his son as a young adult, but he just doesn't wield the same kind of power. They are stronger as a duo, however, which becomes apparent as the second half begins. Though her performance is phenomenal, watching her suffer in the asylum is a beating. In every way, this part is as strong as the first, but it's emotionally draining and there's no hope for a positive ending. It's often beautiful and always well done, but not very much fun. The two sides balance each other out well, though, one is just harsher and a lot less pleasant than the other.
The disc for Vincere from MPI, under the IFC Films brand, is acceptable on a technical level, but devoid of any meaningful supplements, which is typical of the label. The image looks very good generally, though it has a few instances of blocking; colors and black levels are solid. Because of the stock footage insertions, there's plenty of grain at times, but that's certainly understandable. The 5.1 surround mix fares even better, with strong dialog and sound effects in all channels. Carlo Crivelli's bombastic orchestral score accents the film very well, and the music sounds great the whole way through. Unfortunately, the only extra is a trailer, however, which doesn't count.
Vincere is very strong stuff from Marco Bellocchio, well-written and brilliantly acted. It's unrelenting, and all the suffering becomes a little heavy after a while, but slapping anything happy onto this tragic story would have been a crime. Wholly recommended.
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