Opens Fri., April 2
“Time’s up. God doesn’t exist,” declares the young, strapping and mustachioed Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) five minutes after demanding God prove his existence by striking him dead.
Details are fuzzy about when Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the woman who claimed she was not only married to the dictator but had sired his first son, initially met the future-Il Duce. But as depicted in the keyed-up biopic Vincere, by legendary Italian director Marco Bellocchio (Fist in His Pocket, My Mother’s Smile), this rock-star moment was when she fell in love, thus sealing her grim fate.
Depicted as history’s most intense groupie, Ida’s passion for the man and his fiery socialist ideals results in long, deep stares, quickly doffed clothes and an unreciprocated declaration of love mid-first bonk. Despite donating her earnings to his cause and producing a spawn (named after his father, natch), she winds up cruelly rebuffed once Mussolini turns to fascism, dictatorship and another family. When she persists in public confrontations, she’s carted to a mental institution, unable to produce documentation for her tall claims.
The similarities to Clint Eastwood’s Changeling are borderline eerie, but where Eastwood treated an even more lurid tale with his usual Old Master laconicism, Bellocchio—also a septuagenarian—is full-on operatic.
The tale of the young Benito Mussolini and his jilted Ida is told with muscular camerawork, a bombastic score and ravenous performances. Words like “WAR!” fly at the screen, while Mussolini can’t even fuck without having archival footage of the horrible triumphs to come being superimposed over the action—a visualization of his desire for power usurping his ideals.
Sweeping, breathless and kinetic, the filmmaking mirrors Ida’s idolization of her beloved, and only turns more phantasmagoric when Ida winds up interred in the nuthouse. It’s here, from an Aristotlean standpoint, that the drama basically ends, but Mezzogiorno’s fearless, justly award-gobbling performance segues from febrile to heartbreaking calm, while her director continues directing the shit out of his picture. In an odd but effective move, Ida never ages, retaining her good looks, while Timi disappears—replaced by footage of the plumper, balder, more gregarious dictator-era Mussolini—only to rematerialize toward the end as the young adult Benito Jr. (This means Mezzogiorno winds up pining for the same actor, one romantically, the other maternally.) Biopic-makers: Take note. History need never be dull or ossified, at least when projected on a screen.
On several occasions, the one-time Dawson Leery simply walks around town with a Taiwanese local as they upchuck protracted history lessons.