Mark Reviews Movies

VINCERE

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Fabrizio Costella

MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 4/2/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 2, 2010

A subtle, inattentive glance at a tabloid while standing in line at the store is deceptive. From the corner of the eye, it appears in the brief moment as a newspaper. Anything beyond the shortest of looks, of course, betrays the illusion.  Here are not news stories.

Similarly, there is Vincere (translated to "Win"), which does a misleading job of representing historical accuracy and significance, until one realizes what its aim is. This is the historical equivalent of a gossip rag, all flailing arms and weeping assertions. Vincere is based on rumor and conjecture, even though it sports dates and places in its dramatized scenes and tosses in newsreel footage every so often.

The illusion is effective to a point, and then comes the realization that, in spite of the critical era in which it takes place and all the possible angles from which to explore it, this is the fight Vincere chooses to fight—one of hearsay and relatively minor scandal.

Set against Benito Mussolini's (Filippo Timi) rise to power in Italy, the movie tells the story of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), reputed to be Il Duce's first wife and mother of his first-born son.

According to the movie's history, Ida and Mussolini carried on a passionate romance—at least on her end—as the future dictator began to find his political voice. Selling all of her possessions so the socialist leader could start a propagandist newspaper, Ida finds that her lover's affection is fading, if ever existing in the first place, and that his desire for power overshadows all.

These scenes, establishing their relationship, are the movie's best. There is a tangible, observable dynamic between them. As they have sex, she is tender, kind; he is aloof, staring away from her gaze and into a future he knows is in his grasp. She senses potential in the man, as well, from the first moment they met—a chance meeting on the street as the young man runs from the police. At a town hall meeting discussing the political turmoil of pre-World War I Italy, Mussolini dares God to strike him down in five minutes. If nothing happens, he argues, God does not exist. There is clamor, then silence. Once the time passes, there is a riot. Mussolini escapes over the throngs of angry spectators, while Ida stares at him with youthful admiration and adoration.

Mussolini's shift to a fierce nationalist is fascinating, if in the background. At first critical of the government and the Vatican, the arrival of world war ignites a debate among his comrades between war and neutrality. Mussolini urges for war, hence establishing fascism into historical consciousness.

Timi is a fiery presence as Mussolini (and later as his quieter, abandoned son), a strong one-note performance that displays cunning underneath the ruthlessness.

Once in power, director and co-writer Marco Bellocchio leaves Timi's portrayal behind, presenting Il Duce in newsreel footage. Ida hardly recognizes the man she still loves when she sees him before a movie starts. He's lost most of his hair, she notices, and the tone of her voice betrays the feelings she once had for him.

The movie loses its already shaky focus with Timi's absence. Mezzogiorno's performance is commendable for the melodramatic effect, but as a character, Ida is sympathetic only as a jilted lover. She pronounces herself Mussolini's wife, in spite of his marriage to another and evidence she says has either been eliminated from public record or refuses to reveal. The government, now under Mussolini's control, puts her in a mental institution while her son stays at a school.

Her actions are intended as heroic, a lone voice of constant dissent among the rest who have either fallen under Mussolini's spell or are too afraid to speak out. Her doctor (Corrado Invernizzi) is among the latter crowd, and he tries to reason with her. If she wants to see her son again, as she repeatedly says she does, she must give up her accusations. She refuses, and given the severity of the situation, her stated desire to have a reunion with her son, and the content of her allegations, her acts point more toward stubbornness than heroism.

Not only does she reject the concept of keeping silent, but she also lives in a state of denial about Mussolini's feelings for her. If he only knew, she repeatedly ponders, where she is and what has happened, he would surely have her released. There is a constant suspicion that she has made all this up. Bellocchio and Daniela Ceselli show her hiding her marriage certificate, and then bluntly state in the coda that no such document has of yet been found.

Bellocchio's portrait of Ida is too simplistic to assign anything other than symbolic meaning to it, and there, perhaps, Vincere suffers the most. This is a movie about dirty secrets, posing as artistic analysis of a man about whom surely more critical and scathing scrutiny could be made.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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