Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****
I first saw Vincere when it had its American premiere during last year's New York Film Festival, but the film -- directed and co-written (with Daniella Ceselli) by Marco Bellocchio -- is so smart, dark and telling that it easily rewards a second viewing. Marco Bellocchio's skills as a filmmaker have only grown as he has aged.
Bellocchio tells his version of Benito Mussolini (aka Il Duce) as combination black comedy, opera, history, horror, politics, and masochistic love story of the woman who fixated on Mr. M, married him and fathered his child. In that role you'll discover a very different side of popular Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows), who at times seems very nearly feral in this film, while getting yet another taste of the fellow who may well be the most talented, versatile and charismatic young actor in Italy, Filippo Timi (who starred in a different Ozpetek film, Saturn in Opposition.
The movie is strange and disturbing, most of all because it takes the political and spins it into the purely personal -- while forcing us to come to terms with how the two are connected in ways that destroy as much as help us, and how Italy itself seems still, as then, devoted to a fascist media mogul. I didn't realize till seeing this film that Mussolini began his career as a socialist - shades of Ronald Reagan! - and that thanks to the money from Ida Dalser (the character played by Mezzogiorno), he also became a media mogul, prior to his rise to ultimate power. Along the way, in his tour of pre-and-during WWII Italy, Bellocchio also skewers the hypocrisy of the so-called "family values" of the Catholic Church.
If the film may seem to concentrate too heavily and too long on Dalser's decline, Mezzogiorno makes the character so real yet so crazy, clinging futilely to her love for this worthless man whom she believes will ultimately honor and save her, that the movie becomes a kind of endurance test for her -- and for the audience. Yet the filmmaker fills his piece with fine performances, as well as with newsreel footage, fascist slogans of the time (writ large on the screen), with fantasy and reality, plus some wonderfully imagined moments that, whether they actually happened or not, will now remain indelibly soldered to the viewer's brain.
For his part, Timi plays both the crazy-like-a-fox Mussolini and his sad son, who, along with his mother Ida, may be among Italy's most ill-used citizens. Seen simply as history, the movie jolts; as art, it amazes and chills.
Vincere (the word means "win") is Bellocchio's best since Good Morning, Night and should further secure his place in the pantheon of the world's great filmmakers.
[Note: Sadly, the DVD is bare bones, with only the trailer as an "extra."]
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