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With: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michela Cescon, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Paolo Pierobon, Bruno Cariello, Francesca Picozza, Simona Nobili, Giovanna Mori, Silvia Ferretti, Corinne Castelli, Patrizia Bettini, Fabrizio Costella
Written by: Marco Bellocchio, Daniela Ceselli
Directed by: Marco Bellocchio
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 122
Date: 05/19/2009
IMDB

Vincere (2009)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Benito Finito

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Italian director Marco Bellocchio made what some consider one of the finest debuts in motion picture history: Fists in the Pocket (1965). His career since has been a bit sparse, but he has returned with a vengeance with his gorgeous new biographical epic Vincere. This is ordinarily not my kind of movie, but when the very fabric of the movie matches that of the subject matter, it rises above the usual, dull, self-important conventions of the historical genre. Instead of focusing on re-creating historical moments, Bellocchio invents one truly stunning image after another to fill in the blanks around the historical moments.

The story moves in the periphery of Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi), but more closely follows his lover Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). She falls passionately in love with him and becomes obsessively devoted to him, selling all of her belongings so that Mussolini can start a fascist newspaper with the money. He marries her and they have a son together, but after the start of the First World War, he no longer recognizes her as his wife. And though he once acknowledged young Benito as his son, he no longer does so. Ida is placed in a horrible position; she's telling the truth, but her story is so fantastic -- and without proof -- that she's considered insane. (Her marriage certificate is hidden and never found.) She's thrown into an asylum, where she stops fighting for the love of Mussolini and starts fighting for the love of her son.

The movie opens with a stunning scene. Mussolini goes to the head of a town meeting and announces that there is no God. He challenges God to strike him dead within five minutes, and if He does not do so, then He does not exist. Ida is instantly entranced by him. But Bellocchio illustrates their real relationship during a powerful sex scene. Ida moans in great pleasure and caresses him and chants "I love you" while Mussollini thrusts away, glaring silently at the wall with great, black, horrible eyes.

In later scenes, we get an astonishing mix of conflicting images, sending the moment spiraling off into anguish. During the scene in which Mussolini tosses Ida away, he is laying injured in a wartime hospital bed, in what looks like a church. There is a silent movie about Jesus Christ being projected on the building's ceiling, so that the men lying in beds can watch. In another scene, Ida desperately tries to send some letters from the asylum, and is forced to climb the iron bars and hurl them out into the snowy night. The combination of the floating letters, the falling snow, the iron bars and Ida clinging in the center, add up to a striking image, more powerful than any collection of historical dialogue.

After the war, the film makes a bold move: it discards Timi's performance as Mussolini and begins substituting archival footage of the real man, making him more distant and more real at the same time. It's hard to watch the real Mussolini and not think of Jackie Oakie's Oscar-nominated parody in Chaplin's The Great Dictator, especially since Chaplin is so present here; Ida watches The Kid while locked away in her terrible prison, and it moves her to tears. But the images turn disturbing again as we watch the college-age Benito (played by Timi) impersonating his father with such a feverish fervor that his classmates eventually cease laughing and walk away from him.

All this is merely an attempt to describe the masterful way that Bellocchio creates imagery to suggest the emotions behind these historical events. He does not treat the historical events as sacred text. Even if he doesn't really detract from them, he also does not slavishly re-create them in a literal sense. Bellocchio's first goal is to make a movie, and then secondly to tell the tragic story of Ida and her son, whose lives were touched and changed by a powerful man. And Vincere is a powerful movie worthy of them.

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