Although one of the 20th century’s most notorious dictators is the topic, the new film “Vincere” isn’t exactly about Benito Mussolini. It’s more about the effect of Mussolini.
We see this effect most vividly through the worshipful eyes of the woman who claimed to be his first wife, Ida Dalser. Through her life, Dalser could never produce the marriage certificate that would prove her claim, although Mussolini did acknowledge that a son born to Dalser in 1915 was his.
That was before Mussolini cooked up fascism as his brutal method for taking over Italy’s government (before he flip-flopped ideologies, he was in the socialist cause). But the film suggests, in Ida’s dazzled reaction to the young powerhouse, how people can be drawn to leaders who project certainty, simplistic ideas and flag-waving nationalism.
It’s as though director Marco Bellocchio, a veteran Italian filmmaker, realized that by telling the story of Ida Dalser, he could distill the essence of how people are seduced by demagogues. The only difference here is that the seduction is also physical.
The film is told from Ida’s perspective and she is given a full-bore performance by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, an actress who first came to international prominence in “The Last Kiss” and “Facing Windows.”
Earlier in this decade it seemed as though the molto bella Mezzogiorno was on the verge of becoming a crossover star, along the lines of Penelope Cruz, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Her soulful performance here — Ida is completely, ferociously devoted to Mussolini — might change that.
Mussolini himself, played by the suitably intense Filippo Timi, leaves Ida’s life early on, renouncing her and marrying a more acceptable mate. After that, we see Mussolini only as a newsreel image — through actual newsreels of the real Benito Mussolini, viewed by Ida at the movie theater.
That’s another idea Bellocchio is toying with in “Vincere”: the way projected images can intoxicate the audience — whether it’s the riveting fiction of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” (which causes an emotional reaction in Ida) or the real-life allure of a bull-headed, forceful dictator who gains power by flattering the population and pumping up us-against-them patriotism.
In other words, “Vincere” (which means “win,” as in conquer) is a complicated movie. It isn’t completely successful as either melodrama or essay-film, but as a mixture of both, it’s pretty fascinating.
Marco Bellocchio’s intriguing film shows the seductive effect of a tyrant, by delving into the relationship between Benito Mussolini and his (alleged) first wife, who was worshipful of this charismatic brute. An idea movie and a melodrama in equal parts, with a full-bore performance by Giovanna Mezzogiorno as the woman in question. In Italian, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably R, for nudity, subject matter
Showing: Harvard Exit