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VINCERE

film_VINCERELust, longing, betrayal, revenge, madness. These are the elements of grand opera, used to swoony effect by veteran Italian filmmaker Marco Bellochio in his arresting Vincere (Victory). His subject is the woman and child Benito Mussolini left behind while reinventing himself as Il Duce. Political content is acute throughout; the director draws parallels between Mussolini's opportunistic path from young Socialist troublemaker to Fascist dictator and the ruthlessness with which he abandons the woman who loves him. But the film plays out as a rapturous fever dream of love and loss told entirely from the viewpoint of Ida Dasler (played with simmering grace and erotic intensity by Giovanna Mezzogiorno). After a chance meeting and fiery kiss in a back alley during a 1907 protest march, Ida is drawn to the charismatic gall and grandeur of young Mussolini (Filippo Timi)—who challenges God to strike him dead to prove that God doesn't exist. Their hungry sex is a rite of communion to her, although he's always focused on something ahead. When he's fired from his newspaper job, she sells her belongings to finance his own paper. When she gets pregnant, he marries her in secret— chiefly because he has another wife and child. But as Mussolini climbs ever higher, "beyond morality," from peacenik to war hero to Fascist leader, Ida and their son become an embarrassment to him. Refusing to stop telling the truth about their relationship, or perjure herself with a lie, she finally lands where inconvenient women always end up—in the madhouse. But this plot summary can't convey the sheer operatic audacity of Bellochio's filmmaking: Carlo Crivelli's swirling, fortissimo musical score that accents every emotional peak, ornate visuals (a duel before belching industrial smokestacks), aria-like moments of passion, denunciation, despair. Authentic movie house headlines ("WAR!") set the overheated tone, along with newsreel footage of the real Il Duce (the only way Ida gets to him in the second half of the film). The stirring power of movies is another subtext, from the way Mussolini identifies with the suffering Christ in a Biblical epic, to Ida's reaction when little Jackie Coogan is ripped from the arms of Charlie Chaplin in The Kid. Yet for all its stylization, the film's power comes from the essential plight of Mezzogiorno's uncompromising Ida: "The man I adore has erased me." (R) 104 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. (★★★) LJ

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