Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie Review: Vincere

Vincere *** ½
Directed By:
Marco Bellocchio.
Written By: Marco Bellocchio & Daniela Ceselli.
Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Ida Dalser), Filippo Timi (Benito Mussolini / Benito Albino), Fabrizio Costella (Benito Albino), Corrado Invernizzi (Dottor Cappelletti), Fausto Russo Alesi (Riccardo Paicher), Michela Cescon (Rachele Guidi), Pier Giorgio Bellocchio (Pietro Fedele), Paolo Pierobon (Giulio Bernardi), Bruno Cariello (Giudice), Francesca Picozza (Adelina), Simona Nobili (Madre Superiora), Giovanna Mori (Tedesca), Silvia Ferretti (Scarpette rosse), Corinne Castelli (Lacrime), Patrizia Bettini (Cantante).

When Vincere opens, Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) is a no name socialist provocateur in pre WWI Italy. In his opening scene, he tells a roomful of Union Men, and clergymen, that if God does not strike him dead in the next five minutes, then it is proof that God does not exist. After his speech, the meeting descends into chaos. This is when Mussolini first sees Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). There is sexual chemistry between them even in the midst of all the arguing and fighting around them. It isn’t long before these two are falling in love, getting married and having a son, who they name after Benito himself. But then Mussolini goes off to war, becomes a hero, and then wants nothing to do with Dalser. He has married someone else, and denies ever marrying Dalser. Because he has become a powerful politician, he has the power to silence her - even enough influence to put her in a mental institution to shut her up.

Thus is the story of Marco Bellocchio’s new film Vincere (which means Victory). Bellocchio has been making incendiary political dramas since the 1960s, when his debut film Fists in the Pocket caused a stir. With Vincere, Bellocchio tells a little known story from Italy’s past. In the early scenes of the movie, Mussolini is portrayed as darkly handsome, and dangerously sexy. You can see why a fiery beauty like Mezzogiorno’s Dasler would fall for him as quickly as she does. The movies numerous sex scenes are extended and erotic, without ever becoming overly graphic. Once Mussolini comes back from the war, and refuses to acknowledge Dasler, we see him only through his numerous speeches in newsreel footage - paunchy and overly angry. The film also mixes in various political propaganda ads to show just how Italy was changing at the time.

Yet the movie remains Dasler’s story. To a certain extent, the movie reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Changeling about a mother who is branded insane by the LA police force when they return her “son” to them, and she insists that it is the wrong boy. Yet Vincere never devolves into melodramatic nonsense, like Changeling often played as. Dalser is portrayed as obsessively stubborn. She is repeatedly told that if she will just stop insisting that she is Mussolini’s rightful wife, then she will be released from the hospital and be reunited with her son. But she just cannot do it. Against her better judgment, she loves Mussolini, and believes that he loves her as well. All these years of torment are just his way of testing her. While she is not insane when she enters the hospital, as the years drag on, she slowly becomes so.

And her poor son fairs no better on the outside. Abandoned by his father, and having his mother taken away from him, and given to a rich, arrogant man to be raised, Benito Jr. simply really has no chance at a normal life. Played late in the movie by Tippi again, we see him as the spitting image of his father, who does a mean impression of the President himself. But he cannot deal with all the pressure

The movie is carried by the great performance by Mezzogiorno (and to a lesser extent Tippi, who is great in the opening and closing scenes of the films, but not on screen at all during the long middle segments). Mezzogiorno never loses our sympathy, even if at times we become frustrated with her actions. Sure, what Mussolini did to her was heartless, cruel and wrong, but does she never stop to think about what her actions are doing to her son? Although we believe that she loves her son, we simply want her to give in and take the offer to get out. The amazing thing about the performance is that Mezzogiorno makes us understand her actions, even while we disagree with them. It is one of the best performances of the year.

Bellocchio is a master filmmaker, and Vincere is undoubtedly his best film in a number of years. It is a classically well made, and well structured story. His anger is palpable and comes across on screen remarkably well. Now well into his 60s, he shows no signs of slowing down. Vincere is one of his triumphs of his career.

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