Dark chapter of Italian history revealed in Euro Film Panorama

Daily News Egypt
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The European Film Panorama is back for the second consecutive year with a stellar line-up of some of the biggest narrative European films and documentaries of the year.

Organized by Misr International Films, the weeklong festival is headlined by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” starring Javier Bardem, Xavier Beauvois’s “Of Gods and Men,” the 2010 Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival. Other highlights include Catherine Corsini’s “Partir” (Leaving), Feo Aladag’s “When We Leave” and Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.”

Another highlight of this year’s Panorama is the 2009 Italian biopic, “Vincere” written and directed by Marco Bellocchio.

The film chronicles the life and tragic fate of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), the first wife of Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi). The two met while Mussolini was working as a journalist and beginning his political career with the Italian Socialist Party in Milan during the years leading up to World War I. Their passionate romantic relationship resulted in a marriage in 1914 and the birth of his first son, Benito Albino Mussolini the following year.

The film is laconic yet highly expressive. The beautiful, time period reconstruction is realized in muted, cold colors and textured by the quality of rich costume fabric. There are periodic flashes of bright red in socialist banners, blood and clothing which underscore the acrid sociopolitical tensions and ruptures within Italian society of the period. The film is interspaced with montages of film reels shot at the time and flashing text of newspaper headlines announcing important political events.

The dialogue is sparse and there is virtually no character development in the first half of the film. Mussolini is presented as a determined and charismatic force. Timi’s piercing dark eyes are ever detached and bore into some enigmatic distance even in the most intimate moments.

Dalser, on the other hand, is spellbound by his passion and ferocity both as a leader and as a lover. She sells all of her possessions, including her apartment and beauty salon to finance Mussolini’s independent newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, when he separates from the socialists who were against Italy’s involvement in World War I.

Their romance continues though the future Il Duce is reticent in his expressions of affection and gradually, Dalser is pushed to the fringes of his fervent political activity. Mezzogiorno and Timi express a cold erotic infatuation rather than a warm, romantic love affair.

With the start of the war and the success of his newspaper, Mussolini separates completely from his previous socialist allegiances and begins to organize a new Fascist movement to build a national identity and advance the success of Italy in the war.

In December 1915, after being wounded in army training exercises and recovering at a military hospital, Mussolini weds Rachele Guidi and as his power and prominence grows Dalser is increasingly persecuted by members of the party.

As the time sequence progresses in the film, Bellocchio’s focus shifts away from Mussolini who refuses to recognize Dolser as his wife and Albino as his son. Mezzogiorno’s character begins to develop at this point in the film, as Dolser relentlessly seeks a meeting and writes letters to the man she continues to adore.

The Fascists security services first confine her to virtual house arrest in the home of her sister in Sopramonte after Mussolini assumed the country’s leadership in 1922. At this point, Timi disappears from the film as the embodiment of Il Duce and footage of the real Mussolini are inserted to represent the state of contemporary events.

When a party leader comes to visit Sopramonte, Dolser launches at him in desperation with pleas to be seen by Mussolini. She is subsequently forcibly interned at the Pergine Valsugana psychiatric hospital and Albino is taken away by members of the party to be raised in a convent. There he is elevated and educated under supervision of the party and is eventually adopted by the former police chief of Sopramonte.

At this point in the film, Mezzogiorno is no longer a one-dimensional, naïve young woman but rather assumes an increasingly dramatic portrayal both of desperation and unbroken determination to be recognized. Scenes from within the Perigne hospital and later the insane asylum on the Venetian island of San Clemente are poignant and dramatic as Dalser tries variously to contact outside authorities and escape her confinement. As all documentations of Mussolini’s first marriage are scrupulously destroyed by members of the government, her case grows increasingly weak and she is denied all contact with her son.

“Vincere” is the first Italian film to take on the Mussolini legacy since Carlo Lizzani’s ill-fated “The Last Days of Mussolini” in 1974, an indication of how contentious this subject remains in Italy.

Director Bellocchio’s career spans 45 years and includes direction of 37 films to date. This is not the first time that he treats controversial subjects tapping at the heart of Italians’ collective memory. Staring with his 1965 debut “Fists in the Pocket,” Bellocchio has provided an expansive chronicle of the middle-class malaise in both his fiction films and documentaries.

“Vincere” was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was pre-selected for the Best Foreign Language Film category in the 82nd Academy Awards.

The European Film Panorama kicks off Nov. 3 at Galaxy Cinema and City Stars. Follow Daily News Egypt for extensive coverage of the festival next week.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Ida Dalser, the first wife of Mussolini.


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