Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Movie on DVD review: Vincere
This mostly subtle film is filled with big, beautiful moments of catharsis.
It’s unfortunate that Vincere never made it to the big screen in Dallas, because after watching it on DVD I am just about convinced that it's the best movie I’ve seen this year. From beautiful, artistic visuals with colorful detail, to a moving story made resonant by powerful performances, to a profound exploration of the human condition and its relationship to love and political hysteria, this historical drama by Italian writer-director Marco Bellocchio is cinema at its finest.
Bellocchio’s film tells the true story of Ida Dalser, the alleged first wife of Italy’s infamous fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. After falling in love, Dalser, the owner of a beauty salon, sold everything she had to help the young, ambitious politician fund his own newspaper. She bore him a son named Benito Albino. When Mussolini enlisted in the military near the outbreak of World War I, however, he married a second time, abandoning Dalser and his child as he began his rise to power. Dalser and her son were then put under surveillance by the police as they lived with family, but after continually proclaiming her marriage and denouncing Mussolini publicly, Dalser was eventually arrested and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she refused to forsake her love for the dictator, while he sought to erase her existence.
In Vincere, this narrative is divided into two segments: romance and tragedy. Bellocchio uses part one, a slower, subtler plot, to develop the relationship between Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Mussolini (Filippo Timi), beginning with an intense scene in which Mussolini denies the reality of God during a theological meeting, while Dalser stands at the back of the room, intrigued. Her attraction to such political zeal becomes the foundation of their love and eventually her obsession, as she gives up her own ambitions to pave the way for his empowerment. While this chapter certainly rationalizes the couple's passion, specifically Dalser's, it also reflects a certain mania that surrounds some political figures.
By contrast, part two moves at a faster pace with greater intensity, focusing on the emotion entailed by Dalser’s separation from her son and society. The film takes this turn when she leaves her home and tries to approach Mussolini at his quarters, only to be beaten, thrown into a vehicle, and spirited away. She awakens in a dark and eerie mental institute run by cold and impersonal nuns. Her son is soon removed from the care of his aunt and uncle (whom he and his mother were living with) and is forced to live at a deserted boarding school.
Though several years pass while Dalser remains in captivity, the plot never ceases to remain vigorous and cathartic. As the different stages of her new life unfold, we see Dalser’s character transform from sanity to insanity and back to sanity again. These transitions not only delve into the personal dangers of love becoming obsession but, again, the effects of political mania on the public, showing how far people are willing to go because of an emotional infatuation. Bellocchio does justice to Dalser and her strength as a woman by unraveling her journey through an unavoidable and partly self-made hell. This depiction in a sense paints her as a martyr who, even though she was initially swayed by personal and political injustice, refuses to submit to it, relating back to the dynamics of the human condition in conjunction with politics and love.
These complexities of Dalser — and Bellocchio’s film as a whole — are anchored by the magnitude of Giovanna Mezzogiorno’s performance. Inside this character, Mezzogiorno exhibits her ability to accomplish the rare acting feat of displaying both subtlety and sentiment: She convinces us with expression using her soft, dark eyes and plain but pretty face and through loud and physical emotion, carefully balancing under- and overstatement. Filippo Timi’s Mussolini is noteworthy, as well. Playing such a prominent historical figure is no simple task: Mussolini always maintained a serious, determined face while flamboyantly waving his arms around with commitment and energy. Timi depicts these traits in a way that nearly perfectly mirrors the mannerisms of the relentless dictator.
Comparisons between them are easily drawn throughout the movie, as scenes transition with real black and white clips of speeches and government propaganda films, used by Bellocchio to capture the era. These short montages, which contain vintage cartoon pieces as well, are an example of Bellocchio’s craft and visual artistry. For Vincere is like a cinematic work of poetry, with every moment of every scene purposeful and woven together harmoniously. Bellocchio, alongside cinematographer Daniele Cipri, recreates early-twentieth century Italy astonishingly through detail and lush color. The meticulous costumes and architecture exist not only as dazzling eye candy, though — they also assist in making the backdrop convincing and accurate to the period. A gripping, operatic original score by composer Carlo Crivelli adds to the authenticity of the setting, making cathartic moments bigger and more effective.
While Vincere is accomplished in every area, it’s this presence of catharsis that ultimately put me in awe. This mostly subtle film is filled with these big, beautiful moments — like Dalser reliving her experiences as she watches a son being taken away from his dad in a Charlie Chaplin film, or a captivating scene where she climbs up the prison gates screaming and throwing letters in the air, as bundles of snowflakes fall down over a dark sky — that illuminate what felt insignificant before, adding to already pure artistry and reminding me why I do what I do: see movies.
David Roark loves movies. And likes to write about them.