Saturday, September 19, 2009

302) Vincere (2009)

302) Vincere (2009) Dir: Marco Bellocchio Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 19, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Improperly translated as it is,* the title of Marco Bellocchio's film about Ida Daiser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the real-life unrecognized mistress of Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) and their bastard son, Benito Albino (also Timi), looks like "Win" when in fact it means "To win." The latter interpretation recognizes the possibility of an alternative result. That hint of doubt is integral to Bellocchio's film. Though she didn't deliver a victorious blow against Mussolini's Fascist ideology or get something more substantial from the tyrant in her lifetime, Daiser's existence today can be reimagined as a symbolic gesture of defiance. Vincere's a real-life "David vs. Goliath" story except here, while Goliath wins, David's presence is worth more than an actual victory.

That kind of short-sighted progressivism fits here better than most other biopics because of Mussolini's insistence on a rigid, hierarchy-bound society where ultimately everybody is subordinate to "Il Duce" but that doesn't make Vincere a more compelling film. Because Daiser opposes a monumental foe, her story is painted in broad, operatic strokes. To wit, the narrative and aesthetic details Bellocchio invests in each scene are never intimate enough to establish a lasting connection. There's just not enough depth of detail in any given encounter, reducing them to handsome blips on an alternate reality's timeline.

I keep stressing that Vincere's like the historical melodrama equivalent of a "What If" story not because its events are untrue but because they exist out of the contemporary political climate's reality. Mussolini's greatest political weapon was his ability to exploit the Italians' nationalist by projecting it back through a prism of jingoism. The best scene in Vincere comes early on when he and Daiser are watching newsreel footage of Italian soldiers in action and he exclaims to his fellow moviegoers what he sees--in this case, the need to go to war--as if he were divining the shapes of clouds on the horizon. Cries of "Pace" are in turned drowned out by taunts of "Guerra," showing how dissent was just steamrolled over in Mussolini's Italy. The film's major coup then is the scene where, after Daiser escape from one of the handful of asylums she's committed to, she is greeted by a mob of incensed supporters. Daiser cannot be shut up now but why that matters today is anyone's guess (if this is a dig at Berlusconi, I don't see it; the film's only really effective as vague political allegory, to my mind).

*This applies to the UK version of the film; not sure how the US version translates "Vincere."

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