Fellow Movie Lovers
Directed and written by seasoned Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio this epic film depicts the woeful tale of Ida Dalser the supposed first wife of Benito Mussolini. No physical evidence of the legitimacy of this union has ever surfaced; Mussolini never recognized Ida’s son as his progeny.
This is an erratic film; there are moments of glorious unmitigated genius, the acting is gut wrenchingly sublime, the transitions from archival film clips to Ida’s saga are blurred to perfection; it stumbles in defining Ida’s erasure and the emergence of Rachele, Mussolini’s legal wife. Also the religious metaphor was bludgeoning; in one scene Mussolini, with his head bandaged from a wound won in the First World War, is writhing in agony as the two “wives” come to blows over his supine body, all the while a film of Christ’s crucifixion is projected on the wall of the hospital ward. A taste of irony, viewing it on Good Friday.
It is a gift to an audience when two performers match each other with such provocative and powerful intensity. Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Ida Dalser (1880-1937) defines the soul and obsessive passion that dominates Ida’s entire existence from the second she meets Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Her adoration for him palpates in their scenes together; she loves with frightening abandonment. The audience gaze with embarrassing voyeurism at these intimate moments, but never look away. Even rejection and humiliation does not demolish but only magnifies her addiction to the demonic Il Duce. Ms. Mezzogiorno’s beauty shimmers under the most torturous circumstances.
It is fascinating that the Italian Government, complicit in the subterfuge against Ida paid her a stipend until she was incarcerated.
Filippo Timi has the dual role of playing Mussolini, as Ida’s lover and the creator of
Fascism and later playing the son he has shunned. He is haunting as the frigid megalomaniac; in his first scene he is messianic in challenging God to strike him dead within five minutes; there is no God if he survives! (We know the outcome, the movie continues for another two hours.) As much as Ida emotes selflessness and wantonness in their relationship Benito withholds at the glacial level any real affection; he views her through an egotistic lens and concrete heart.
As Ida’s son Benito (1916-1942) Timi he is even more mesmerizing; unbelievable that they are one and the same actor. He is pathetically brilliant in imitating his fathers’ fantastical oratory powers to a stupefied group of fellow students. Visions of his demise, in the embryonic stage.
Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, was executed by his own people on April 28, 1945, by a firing squad. He annihilated colossal numbers, but his first wife and son are portents of the future of his heinous dictatorship and “Vincere” honors and recognizes the legitimacy of their lives and heritage but at what cost? Blood of Benito Mussolini running through one’s veins would best be denied.
THREE STARS! (Out of Five)