Loves of the Fascist Dictators

03/17/2010 4:00 AM |

Vincere

Directed by Marco Bellocchio

Humanizing portraits of WWII’s larger-than-life villains appear on-screen regularly these days, but rarely so sexily: when was the last time the movies treated us to a glimpse of Hitler or Hirohito’s member, as Vincere exposes Il Duce’s dangler? A fiery melodrama that devolves into an overlong biopic, the high-pitched, epically soundtracked film posits Mussolini (a brooding and excitable Filippo Timi) not as a bad man of history so much as a bad man, period; it’s less concerned with his crimes against humanity than against one human, his devoted secret-wife Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who gave the pre-dictator her body and bank account, then bore him a baby, just so he could deny her, have her arrested, beaten, stripped of her son and spirited to a series of asylums, where she died. The title means “To Win.”

Mussolini dominates the film’s first half, then disappears, reemerging only in newsreels and headlines; Dalser comes to experience newsworthy events like we do—through mediated forms. Much of the film, hazily shot to suggest History, is set in smoky cinemas, and the film’s most poignant moment comes not from historical record but from movie-inspired imagination: Mezzogiorno weeping, a la Anna Karina, during a screening of Chaplin’s The Kid, whose narrative loosely parallels her own. But too often the film feels diagrammatic, hitting the main points in a woman’s extraordinary life story, yet rendering them unexceptional. It’s not the ordinary humans who need to be humanized: they need to seem as colossal 
as the despots.