At the Cinema | Vincere – The rise of Benito Mussolini & the fall of the woman he erased

Vincere - Filippo Timi & Giovanna Mezzogiorno star in Marco Bellocchio’s film about Benito Mussolini and his first wife

Veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio is a prolific filmmaker, but we don’t often get to see his work in UK cinemas – 2003’s Good Morning, Night, his sobering drama about the Red Brigade kidnapping of Italian politician Aldo Moro, was the last of his films to get a release over here. So it’s a real treat to see his latest movie, Vincere, a typically provocative examination of the life of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Like Robin Hood, also released in the UK this week, this is an origins tale and one that views its familiar protagonist from an unusual angle.

The film’s perspective is that of Ida Dalser, the woman who claimed to have been his first wife and bore him a son, but who was erased from history by Mussolini’s regime, was persecuted and incarcerated, and ended her days in a psychiatric hospital.

Vincere - Filippo Timi & Giovanna Mezzogiorno star in Marco Bellocchio’s film about Benito Mussolini and his first wife

In the film’s first half, before everything turns sour, we see the young Mussolini through Dalser’s enraptured eyes. He’s a socialist firebrand in pre-First-World-War Milan, daring God to strike him dead in a public debate and bellowing radical slogans as he marches at the head of defiant protestors: “With the guts of the last Pope we will strangle the last King”.

Dalser’s devotion never wavers; she even bankrolls her lover’s newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia. But as Mussolini’s political career changes course and gathers momentum, she becomes an inconvenience to be hushed up and kept out of sight. Hereafter, Dalser’s viewpoint becomes the series of mental asylums and hospitals where she spent the remainder of her life.

As Dalser, Giovanna Mezzogiorno delivers a passionate, ho-holds-barred performance. Filippo Timi is equally good as the bullish, blustering Mussolini, the content of his rhetoric always less important than the forcefulness of its delivery. We don’t see Timi in the film’s second half; instead we only see Mussolini in newsreel footage – which fits Dalser’s exclusion from his life and avoids the need for Timi to do an impersonation of the dictator in his all too familiar pomp.

On general release from 14th May.

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