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Returning to Vincere, one might consider that the title means not only "to win," but also, depending on the nature of the direct object, to "beat," "defeat" or "vanquish." It is thus fitting that when the youngish Mussolini and Ida embrace, he crushes her. When they kiss, he asphyxiates her. And when they make love, so to speak, he singularly swarms and smothers her and almost never, for a moment, meets her gaze. Unless they are thusly engaged, in fact, they are rarely in the same room. When they are in public, even early in the film when they are still quite involved, she is sidelined. And in an exquisitely telling moment that might quite easily get lost in translation, Ida, upon giving to her lover her every lira to fund his newspaper, asks of him only one thing in return: "Dimmi che ti amo," "Tell me you love me." He pauses and considers—a pregnant moment in various ways, in fact—before doing as she asks. Yet even this avowal is indirect, perhaps ingenuous, for he says it in German, "Ich liebe dich." This is a minor detail, one might say, until an extensive reel of archival footage later in the film shows the real Mussolini, in full dictatorial form, addressing an audience with great pomp, and great passion, in German. That his gaze is always beyond, that his communication is consistently indirect, that his every mannerism is one of domination, and that his sentiments are never less than steely might achieve here a fine point of grandiloquent culmination. He has no true interlocutors, only ultimately silenced audiences—rapt, raucous and enthralled though they may be. Indeed, his ideal listeners are masses of approving others; his envisioned destinies, truly nationalistic or not, inhabit ever an elsewhere.
The embodiment of the ideal nation in which he purports to believe requires the disembodiment of those who believe in him. And this exploitation of others' bodies, others' means and others' destinies triggers the exploitation of a certain violence of imagery. It is somewhat erroneous, then, though simultaneously fitting that a Biography documentary on Mussolini, as it is currently featured on Hulu, is categorized not under "Political Figures" or "Historical Figures," but under "Performers."
In a recent interview featured on The Huffington Post, Bellocchio claims that he had not initially intended for his film about Mussolini and Ida-cum-Italy to contain any correlative messages, let alone warnings, regarding the relationship between Italy and her current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and that such resemblances became apparent to him only once work was well underway. Yet the parallels, for his viewers, are too striking to disregard, the mediatic mastery too mimetic to overlook.
Should the same critico-cinematic device that links Pasolini's Mamma Roma to Rossellini's Pina be at play here to bind Giulia to Ida, then one might conclude that whether the actress is Anna Magnani or Giovanna Mezzogiorno—or whether the context is distantly literary or contemporarily filmic—the Italian tradition of deploying, at times disembodying female figures to embody the variable sufferings or conquests of the Italian people is yet alive and well, for good or for ill.
Italy's abiding reverence for the Virgin Mary, yet another deep-rooted tradition, is surely not without relevance in all this. But that need not be discussed here.
Suffice it to say that Bellocchio, employing a beautiful eye and certain metaphorical might in the creation of a pretty picture called Vincere, takes this synecdochic tradition a bold step further. And in so doing, Bellocchio vince.