A Pirandellan air permeates Vincere, which means to win, to overcome, written (along with Daniela Ceselli) and directed by the maker of Enrico IV (1984), Marco Bellocchio. Mockingly aping his father, dictator Benito Mussolini, after one of Mussolini’s exaggerated speeches, Mussolini’s son, also named Benito (Filippo Timi plays both characters), goes insane under a combinate burden: his mother’s incarceration in an insane asylum for insisting that Mussolini, who has married since, is her legal husband and that her son, “Benitino,” is also his son; his father’s having nothing to do with him; his father’s being both beast and buffoon on national and international stages. However, it is the boy’s mother, Ida Delser, who is the protagonist of Bellocchio’s latest brilliant film. The existence of Mussolini’s first wife and son became widely “known” only in 2005.
Covering nearly forty years of twentieth-century Italian history, Vincere charts Mussolini’s rise from impoverished socialist-activist to Fascist dictator through two agencies: rabble-rousing exploitation of class division and anti-clerical sentiment (Mussolini ultimately uses the Church to legitimize his rule); his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, which bourgeois Ida bankrolls—this, despite their (presumably) marrying, the sum of Mussolini’s use for her. Ida is unable to “move on.” Along the way, she is advised to “play a different role,” that of an obedient, submissive, domestically inclined woman rather than an enraged, agitated irritant. This is what Mussolini himself has done in becoming Il Duce: he has found another role to play. For Mussolini, power means hiding from view–his own and others’–the trauma of his initial poverty.
Favoring browns and dimly lit, the first movement suggests buried lives and buried truth. Bellocchio strikingly weaves fictional and archival materials as time, proceeding, locks Ida and son into hopeless lives and, finally, common graves.
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