The story starts at the point in Benito Mussolini's life when, at the age of nineteen, he gave up being a schoolmaster, left his home town of Forli and, as a guest worker on a building-site...
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The story starts at the point in Benito Mussolini's life when, at the age of nineteen, he gave up being a schoolmaster, left his home town of Forli and, as a guest worker on a building-site in Lausanne, Switzerland, underwent his own personal experience of the darker sides of the capitalist system. The speed with which the rhetorically gifted demagogue manages to assemble whole crowds of friends and followers around him - including above all his "protectress", the enigmatic Russian woman Angelika - is reflected in the speed at which he succeeds in attracting enemies from church and state. His love for the beautiful Eleonora, the daughter of a middle-class family, studying medicine at the University of Geneva - a city where Mussolini himself has been carrying stone around as an unskilled worker - even convinces him to take up studying. When a fatal accident occurs on the building-site - a worker plunges to his death from a badly-secured section of scaffolding - the young student ... Written by
A Five Hour Epic Graced with Superb Acting and Historical Recreation
In 1993 Gianluigi Calderone directed this biography of Benito Mussolini (script by Vincenzo Cerami and Mimmo Rafele) as a three-part television series, wisely electing to engage one Antonio Banderas, fresh from his triumph in the film 'Philadelphia' in the States, to tackle the legend of one of the treacherous leaders of Italy in the first half of the 20th century. The DVD is now available in a 2-disc format, which allows the viewer to watch Parts I, II, and III on separate evenings. It is a beautifully captured bit of history and Banderas proves his considerable acting chops in a role that spans the entire spectrum of emotional response.
The film opens when Mussolini, at age 19, was disenchanted with being a schoolteacher and instead focused on womanizing and the plight of the workers in Italy. A man of astounding power of verbal presentation and conviction, he managed to seduce not only nearly every woman who crossed his path but also the multifactioned working class, a mass of frustrated and abused workers who jumped from promise to cause to new hero with regularity in an attempt to change the sad situation of class struggle in Italy.
Mussolini (Banderas) manages to court the interest of Angelika Balabanoff (Susanne Lothar), a Russian Socialist with hard rules and concepts of her own but also a woman who could foresee Mussolini's growing importance as a leader of social reform. The story unwinds at a fine pace, pausing to reveal the tender side of the man with his marriage to his childhood sweetheart Rachele (Claudia Koll), his challenges to attack his education further through the influence of another lover, med student Eleanora (Anna Geislerová), as well as through his ruthless manner through his confrontations with Manzoni (Jan Novotny), Bissolati (Eduard Kolar), his rise to power by becoming the editor of Milan's influential Avanti! newspaper, and his leadership of the Italian Socialist Party. But power gets a strangle hold on him and he develops the cruel Fascismo Party, and with that turns all of his supporters against him in his revolution that started for the working class into a sellout to the landowners, from his initial stance of pacifism of revolution to his active engagement in the World Wars.
Banderas does a fine job of allowing us to see all sides of Mussolini: this is not a cardboard cutout but a man with multi-dimensional characteristics. The superb cast includes German, Spanish, Italian, and Czech Republic actors and therein lies a bit of a problem. While the acting is excellent, it appears that each of the actors is peaking in his own tongue, that the final version released on DVD is dubbed in Italian and/or English with English subtitles. But the dialogue is so fast-paced, filled with vibrantly important information that the viewer rarely gets to look at the mouths of the actors to see who is speaking what - so it doesn't distract from the brilliance of the film.
The cinematography and set design and costuming are all excellent as is the wondrous musical score by Nicola Piovani. It would help to be more informed about Italian political history to fully enjoy this spectacle, but the epic does provide a fine condensation of years of world politics and the rise of Socialism that allows us to understand that strange era far better. Watching BENITO requires an investment of time, but for this viewer the investment is well worth the effort and the subsequent pleasure. Highly Recommended.
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