Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Marco Bellocchio-Vincere

I just saw Marco Bellocchio's recent film, Vincere, and I think it is the best movie to come out of Italy in memory. Or at least my memory. Not that he has a lot of competition.

It just became available on Netflix Instant Watch today, and has only strengthened my regard for ole Marco, a youthful septuagenarian who started making waves in the Sixties. And has never really stopped.

The ironic title means "winning" in Italian, and is a sort of Tom Stoppard-like view of Mussolini, in the sense that it is the tale of Mussolini and Fascism as seen through the little-known story of his lover and abandoned (alleged) first wife, Ida Dalser. In the film, Ida (played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, as lovely as she is talented) not only secretly marries the Duce, but bears him a son, also called Benito. Both Ida and later her son are then persecuted, labelled as insane, and eventually die an untimely death in asylums.

Based on a true story, Bellocchio obviously espouses the truthfulness of Ida's claims- the young "illegitimate" Benito looks just like his dad. Not only that, but in an original twist, the director no longer shows the original actor playing Mussolini when he comes to power- replaced by footage of Mussolini himself. Except that the actor playing Mussolini reappears as Ida's son Benito as a young adult.

Bellocchio shows his roots in the Left of the Sixties and Seventies and one of its slogans: "the personal is political." The ruthless opportunism and disloyalty in the future dictator's personal affairs is reflected later in his political behavior. That Mussolini was indeed capable of such hypocrisy and heartlessness is shown by his record of later adulteries, including his death with his faithful mistress, Claretta Petacci. His wife Rachele escaped and survived. Shortly before the end, he did not hesitate to have his son-in-law Gian Galeazzo Ciano shot.

Thus, Bellocchio aims straight at so many enduring faults of Italian society. The tolerance of sexism and male adultery. The complicity and ambivalence of the Catholic Church. Extremism and political opportunism.

He even aims at himself, in a way. Throughout the film, the burgeoning role of the cinema is present as a counterpoint of reality (including Chaplin and The Kid!). If this work is primarily an examination of truth versus power, as I think it is, Bellocchio invites us to ponder on the insidious role of his own art as a possible ally to unreality and illusion.

Finally, something that I think has been neglected in the understanding of Nazifascism. That is, people's own responsibility in not identifying who is really deranged and dangerous- how could masses of people in Germany and Italy not have seen and heard that Hitler and Mussolini were crazy? This is brought out forcefully by the masterful caricature of the actor Filippo Timi as the now-adult alleged son Benito imitating the bizarre speeches of his alleged father Benito.

Check it out. While you're at it, have your own little Bellocchio Festival with his old movies- you'll learn a lot about Italy. Maybe more than you want to know.

(Inset, director Marco Bellocchio)