The woman who loved and hated Mussolini
by Molly Templeton
VINCERE: Directed by Marco Bellocchio. Written by Bellocchio and Daniela Ceselli. Cinematography, Daniele Ciprì. Music, Carlo Crivelli. Editor, Francesca Calvelli. Starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michela Cescon, Corrado Invernizzi and Fabrizio Costella. IFC Films, 2010. Not rated. 128 min.
Vincere translates roughly to “win.” Victory is the goal for both Benito Mussolini, whom I assume needs little introduction, and for Ida Dalser, who was involved with Mussolini in 1914. According to Dalser, they were married. The couple had a son, Benito Albino Mussolini, in 1915. The child was recognized by Mussolini, but later, both mother and son were denied by the man who had come to be known as Il Duce.
Though Vincere has intense, eye-drawing Filippo Timi as its Mussolini, writer-director Marco Bellocchio keeps his focus on Dalser, played with sharp-eyed intensity by Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Love in the Time of Cholera). Dalser’s character is revealed so slowly it seems, at first, as if she has no character at all, just a burning passion for Mussolini that translates into bottomless support for his ideas. When he resigns as editor of Avanti, she sells all her belongings to fund his new paper. When, after being injured in WWI, he fully shifts his attention to another woman, Dalser is furious. Over the years, her anger solidifies; it becomes less about love than about truth.
Dalser’s story is not a happy one; separated from her son, she was forcibly sent to a mental hospital, where she remained for years, all the while insisting that she was Mussolini’s wife. Dalser’s certainty runs like an iron rod through the center of Vincere, and Mezzogiorno carries the film, whether sitting quietly in a theater or desperately throwing letters through a fence. As Dalser’s world shrinks to the mental institution, her focus shrinks along with it, and the film’s occasional shift to archival footage becomes a welcome change from Dalser’s tireless and repetitive rage. In her quieter moments, Mezzogiorno gives Dalser a feverish calm that sits in precarious balance against Bellocchio’s sometimes operatically pitched film. Vincere focuses on one life destroyed by a lie, and in that frustrating, furious story, effectively suggests the stories of so many others.
Vincere opens Friday, May 7, at the Bijou