Vincere (Director: Marco Bellocchio): Bellocchio’s latest exploration of Italy’s turbulent history is an operatic tragedy which mixes melodrama with the techniques of propaganda films from the Fascist period it depicts. Vincere (Italian for “Win!” and an authentic Fascist slogan) uncovers the little-known story (at least outside of Italy) of Mussolini’s secret wife and son. Ida Dalser is a middle-class woman who first meets the dashing Benito as he’s running from the police after a demonstration in Trento in 1907. The film flashes forward to the eve of the First World War and he’s now a leading figure in the Socialist party, who are advocating Italy’s neutrality in the war to come. Ida and Benito are lovers and her loyalty to him is unbounded, even as his ideas are changing and his ambition growing by the day. He breaks with the party, believing Italy should jump into the war and resigns his post as editor of Avanti!, the party newspaper. Ida sells everything she owns to help him fund his new venture, a paper called Il Popolo d’Italia. Soon after this, she becomes pregnant and in 1915, gives birth to a son, whom she names Benito Albino Mussolini.
She later discovers that her lover already has a wife, Rachele, and a daughter. Although he legally recognizes his son, he soon breaks off all contact with Ida and does military service at the front. Upon his return, he founds the Fascist movement and begins his rise to power. Upon taking the reins of government in 1922, he has Ida and Benito put under police surveillance and refuses all contact with them. He also suppresses all evidence of the relationship. In the film, Ida recalls a wedding ceremony, and claims to everyone to be Mussolini’s wife, but her increasing obsession and failure to produce any documentary evidence leads eventually to her commitment to a mental asylum. Her son is taken away and raised by a local Fascist deputy. Bellocchio directs the flashback in which Ida recalls her wedding perfectly, with just enough ambiguity to leave the audience wondering whether it ever occurred. It casts just enough doubt that her continued confinement doesn’t seem completely unwarranted, though we do sympathize with her.
The film does a masterful job of depicting Ida’s world. After he abandons her, Ida’s only images of Mussolini are from newsreels, which Bellocchio uses liberally throughout the film, accompanied by bold Fascist slogans superimposed as titles. Once the dashing young Benito becomes Il Duce, Ida’s world becomes increasingly claustrophobic and airless. She writes to everyone, including the Pope and the King, to state her case, but she is ignored.
This personal tragedy is played out alongside the tragedy that befell Italy during Mussolini’s rule. Although the larger political landscape is only glimpsed, we know that things don’t end well, either for Ida or for the nation. Bellocchio has crafted a bold and unflinching tale based on real events that shows the results of Mussolini’s obsessive pursuit of power. The score, by Carlo Crivetti, and the innovative use of propaganda footage add force to the film, but in the end it’s the strong performance of Giovanna Mezzogiorno as a tragic figure who, although a victim, is never a silent one, that makes Vincere so memorable.