Movie Review: Meet Mussolini’s Secret Wife in “Vincere”



Marco Bellocchio’s “Vincere” is a  knockout blow to the legacy of Benito Mussolini. The first half of the picture, chronicling his rise to power and love affair with Ida Dalser,   mixes an array of silent and talking footage into a emotionally walloping piece of early 20thCentury Italian history. Carlo Crivelli’s operatic score rouses the images to life, with Belloccihio, although he incorporates  dramatic singing into just one scene,  directing  the whole of it with the dynamics of musical theater.

With  Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Dalser and Filippo Timi playing Mussolini, the picture begins with one of the hottest love scenes of the decade.   This is kissing as it should be done, with trembling pulse and yielding lips.  Bellocchio makes no attempt to eroticize the couple  with  rich lighting and glistening flesh.  Passion is enough.  It is disconcerting, however,  to discover that  Mussolini is even more passionate about military matters, and the sweat of an  agitated crowd on the eve of war  gushes from his conjugal bed,   leaving the poor woman behind in an agony of   sensual devotion.

When Mussolini is wounded in the war and marries his nurse, the movie settles into the telling of Dalser’s story.  She spends much of her life  incarcerated   for claiming to be Mussolini’s real wife who has borne him his first son and legitimate heir.  As the dictator rises to power, Dalser falls into ruin. The film begins to drag as  the story becomes repetitive with  continued proclamations of her marital status, but Mezzogiorno’s excellent performance, along with the stunning cinematography that includes an unforgettable low-angle shot of Dalser climbing the bars of her cell on a snowy night, keeps the audience in thrall.

In these times, when every other German film is re-writing history to whitewash their Nazi heritage, Bellocchio’s portrait of Fascist Italy   does not pull any punches.  His relentless hatred of the former dictator seethes from every frame. One of his most painful allusions to the burden the Italian people bear in the wake of Mussolini’s reign depicts the supposed son to the dictator performing  a frighteningly primal imitation of Mussolini’s speeches that is  weighted  with self-loathing and fratricidal anger.  In contrast, the smashing of the statues is a particularly joyful event for the director, who relishes the crushing of the stone heads as if he himself were squashing the real one.

The title translates as “Win,” which is reminiscent of the use of strong action verbs as the single word titles of propaganda films.   Contrarily,  Bellocchio could be using it  as an  abstract verb to  capture the emotion of the act rather than its accomplishment.  The picture resounds with the clamor towards victory, but it is not until the leader is dead and the people freed of their delusions that Italy picks herself up from the  calamities of war and begins her victory walk.


2 thoughts on “Movie Review: Meet Mussolini’s Secret Wife in “Vincere”

  1. Watching the clip, it immediately appealed to me. It felt very ’70s but maybe that was just me, wanting it to be. I didn’t really know much about this film (though I had read a short snippet about it in ‘Empire’ magazine.)
    It has the same feel as ‘The Conformist’, one of my favourite period films, so there’s every chance that I would enjoy it very much. Thanks, Bill.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Hi Pete. Good to hear from you. Bellocchio has been around since 1965, and is one of the last of the Italian masters, which accounts for the seventies look and feel. I these,ink it is the time and place, the clothes, the large spaces within buildings, that evoke The Conformist. Bertolucci’s film is much more luxurious in color and movement. But you are right..there are similarities. Wishing you a memorable week.


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