Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marco Bellocchio's Vincere - Mussolini & His Secret Bride

Benito Mussolini was a key figure in the establishment of fascism in decadent Europe. He was a politician who eventually ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. But Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere" (Win) isn't exactly about him, though the story is anchored on his rise to the political arena. He was the editor of Avanti. But writing for the tabloid wasn't enough for the passionate young Benito. He was also impulsive. In 1914, while facing a good crowd, he challenged the presence of God. "If you're real, prove this by killing me in front of this crowd within 5 minutes," he shouts before the shaken townsfolk. In the same town meeting, he meets Ida Dalser (Giovanna Messogiorno) who fell head over heels in love with Benito. He so enamored her that she would seduce him at every chance meeting. When she learns that it was his dream to start a tabloid of his own ("Il Popolo d'Italia"), she sold everything she's got and offered the proceeds to Benito. They secretly get married, and she learns she's pregnant! What a joy indeed! But there's a hitch: she didn't know that Benito was already married man, making hers spurious.

While Mussolini (Filippo Timi) gradually fulfills his dream, eventually becoming Italy's 25th Prime Minister (and employing the term "Il Duce"), Ida and his son are constantly denied recognition by the man who owes her affection and money! But Ida's devotion turns her impoverished - and looney. She would write to everyone, declaring that she's Il Duce's wife - and that their son is Mussolini's first born. Her persistence so disturbed the politician that efforts were made to disenfranchise Ida. The state was soon tasked to separated mother and son. She was sent to an asylum where, for years, she's kept under medication. Her son was likewise taken to an orphanage. They were never recognized by the Prime Minister.

Director Marco Bellocchio's "Vincere" follows Ida's harrowing tale of love, devotion and her descent into lunacy. Is there hope for the lovelorn beauty?

My first Marco Bellocchio film was memorable - "Devil in the Flesh" with Maruschka Detmers. As a young mind, I would then be ushered into the realm of risque subtitled  European cinema. After all, the film had a beautiful lady fellate a young man on screen. Bellocchio always tried pushing boundaries. He was uncompromising where narrative exposition is concerned. I was quite surprised to find "Vincere" (2009) being shown at the Shangrila Cinema last September.

To document specific situations from the pages of Dalser's memories, Bellocchio would film them in the most matter-of-fact manner that they seem detached from an audience's perspective. Many of the earlier scenes were hypnotic glimpses of European chaos in Sarajevo, Hungary, etc. He would also insinuate flashes of European history - from Hungary to Russia. If you aren't familiar or just don't care about them, it's easy to get disoriented with the brisk intercuts. The film tests patience. However, like many of Bellocchio's works, patience eventually pays off rather beautifully. What unravels before our eyes is a stirring tale of passionate adoration and devotion. Despite Mussolini's Draconian ways to isolate Ida and their son, Ida never quite gave up on Benito. Mussolini was the dictator all the way through. It was unfortunate that Ida never found the reciprocal affection that she deserved from her ambitious lover. Her situation allows his audience to reflect. Don't you somehow wish that someone could love you with such magnanimity?

Yet Mussolini never acknowledged Ida and her son.

Ida loves Benito.

Confined to an asylum.

Benito marries Ida, but he's married already.

Giovanna Messogiorno (above and below) plays Ida Dalser.

Filippo Timi is Il Duce.

What the heck is Filippo doing in this magazine fashion spread?

Director Marco Bellocchio

Benito Mussolini - Il Duce - is Italy's 25th Prime Minister.

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