Less a biography on the early life of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini than a dissection into creating (and sustaining) a cult of personality, Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere is a textured, operatic, and incisive historical fiction based on the fate of Mussolini’s secret first wife, Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who, along with their son, Benito Albino, were erased from Mussolini’s official record as he sought to consolidate power and build a totalitarian state. From the early sequence of a flashback within a flashback as Ida watches a defiant Mussolini (Filippo Timi) challenge Socialist party officials by invoking God’s wrath, triggering a memory of their first encounter, Bellocchio introduces the idea of altered chronology that also foreshadows her struggle for legitimacy and validation as the true wife of Mussolini in the face of systematic whitewashing. Having once sold all of her belongings in order to fund Mussolini’s ambition to create a rival political newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia after his split with the Socialist periodical, Avanti!, Ida’s symbolic gesture of surrendering her fate to the hands of her lover would soon take on an even more ominous dimension when he marries his mistress, Rachele – the mother of his illegitimate daughter – in order to sanitize his public image as a traditional family man (and consequently win the support of the Catholic church). Interweaving archival footage with historical re-enactment and fictional adaptation, Bellocchio insightfully structures the film to reflect a pattern of reconstituted history that enabled the usurpation of power and political suppression, not through a display of force, but through the control of information.
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