A cinematic tour de force, Vincere is Italian master Marco Bellocchio’s (Good Morning, Night, Fists in the Pocket) portrait of Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi), and Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the fiery woman who was his secret wife and the mother of his abandoned child. The closely guarded story of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s secret lover and son is revealed in fittingly operatic proportions. Thunderstruck by the young Mussolini’s charisma, Dalser gives up everything to help champion his revolutionary ideas. When he disappears during World War I and later resurfaces with a new wife, the scorned Dalser and her son are locked away in separate asylums for more than a decade. But Ida will not disappear without a fight. The film was a standout selection of the 2009 Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York and AFI film festivals, and received awards for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Vincere by writer/director Marco Bellocchio
I did not make Vincere to tell a great love story, or to talk about fascism and how closely related to ‘Berlusconism’ it is; or to talk about cinema-within-the-cinema, or avant-garde or futurism, of ‘supermanism’ and so on and so forth. These are all important themes, present in the film but not decisive; that is, I did not make the movie starting out from these themes. So, where did I start from? I think I started from the fixation of a woman with a man, in the sense that Ida Dalser focuses her entire life around Benito Mussolini. She wants to be everything for him: his wife, his lover, his arm, and his political mind—everything. It is an absolute choice in which caution, common sense, any compromise—no matter how small—are completely absent. Ida gives up all of herself for Benito—but Benito does not give up all of himself for Ida.
Ida Dalser is an unlikable, unpleasant, overbearing woman—this is the uncommon charm of this character; unlikable people nowadays are very rare, and portraying them with love without turning them into caricatures is difficult. However, she completely lacks patience, cunning, spirit of adjustment, ability to fake—all “skills” which all of Mussolini’s other lovers (and his lawful wife) had no shortage of, as they all accepted to play a partial secondary role in the dictator’s life. It was not so for Ida: since she gave it all, she wanted it all back—jeopardizing, for this ‘all,’ even her son’s mental health. A pathological fixation. This is a pathological absolute which leads Ida to self-destruction. In doing so, the film also uncovers a vile, rhetorical, indifferently mad Italy, and a Mussolini who, after conquering power, will become more and more of a prisoner of a grotesque mask. This makes those who see him today, and were not born at the time, wonder: “How could this joker conquer the vast majority of Italians and make himself adored by them?” (a question that is even more relevant for Hitler). The answer is better left to historians and psychiatrists.