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Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and his assassination.
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When beauty-salon owner Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzorgiorno) has a chance encounter with the young Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi), she becomes enamoured by him. They cross paths a number of times - one at a political rally where Mussolini challenges God to strike him down if he truly exists; the other she sees him pass her store leading a mob of political activists; and again as he is escaping the authorities, when they share their first kiss. Attracted to his enormous power and political ideals, she sells everything she owns in order to fund his new political magazine. They get married, and he gives her a son. But when he returns from World War I, he marries another women, and his political status vastly grows. Mussolini denies knowing her and puts her under surveillance. When Ida refuses to deny their marriage, she is committed to a mental hospital and all documentation of their marriage is destroyed.
Only unearthed in 2005 by Italian journalist Marco Zeni, this is a fascinating story that was, for years, suppressed by the fascist regime. Both the story and the film is a terrifying portrayal of a country under a ruthless dictator in a turbulent time in Europe. It is not actually known if the story is even true, as all evidence was destroyed by Mussolini's agents. But as well as Ida's stubborn refusal to deny it, their grown son, Benito Albino Mussolini, always spoke out how he was the 'bastard' son of the dictator, and was also placed in a mental asylum. He spoke out until his tragic death at the age of 26. He is portrayed in the film (also played by Timi) at first imitating Mussolini at the insistence of his friends, and then later manically quoting lines from his speeches as he wanders open-robed around the hospital.
The film is a great story that is magnificently acted, beautifully filmed, and unconventionally directed by Marco Bellocchio. Words fly out of the screen shouting 'war!', strange women gaze into the camera whose identity we don't find out until much later in the film, and the film sometimes jumps forward years while only hinting at the events that have taken place in between. It's a brave and worthwhile decision, and although it does slide into a more conventional genre picture near to the end, it remains frequently gripping and anger-inducing. Mezzogiorno in the lead role is outstanding, and in the scene where she breaks apart as she enters her second asylum, she is both heart-breaking and strangely inspiring. Timi is a force of nature as Mussolini, nailing his mannerisms and ruling over his people with a steely disposition.
Vincere was tipped for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, but was overshadowed by the admittedly better films The White Ribbon and A Prophet. But this is a fantastic film in its own right - insightful, powerful, and disturbing, and Bellocchio, a veteran at 71, is definitely a director to keep an eye on.
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