And I'm not talking only about his political ideology.
Nowadays, the term "fascist" gets thrown around indiscriminately, especially in political circles. But in Marco Bellocchio's 2009 Cannes-nominated film Vincere, we go back to its roots, and Mussolini's personal fascism was clear in his attitude towards his first wife and their son.
(Poster: Cinecittà News)
As it happens, "Vincere" or "to win, overcome" was a favorite word in Il Duce's public harangues, giving Hitler a run for his money on the bombastic front.
It's hard to say who wins in this movie, but I suppose that the truth coming out about Mussolini's secret wife and son, after years of fascistic suppression, is a final victory for the unfortunate Ida. Back in the Twenties and Thirties, when much of the action of the film took place, this film might have been entitled "The Ida Dalser Story."
Writer/director Bellocchio, other than brief end notes, doesn't dwell on the final fate of Ida and little Benito, Mussolini's firstborn. Most Italians were unaware of their existence until 2005, when a documentary "Mussolini's Secret" was shown on Italian TV. The documentary, along with the publication of Alfredo Pieroni's book "The Secret Son of Il Duce: The Story of Albino Mussolini and His Mother Ida Dalser," provided Bellocchio with the historical background for his screenplay.
And then there is the period newsreel footage. As Jay Weissberg wrote for Variety from Cannes last May:
Rarely has actuality footage been used so superbly, not merely for period flavor but as integral to the storyline: Once Mussolini renounces Ida, he's only seen as she sees him, through newsreels.
Some viewers may be put off by the recurrent use of black and white period footage, but as Weissberg writes, it really does work. The music, and even the 1930s typeface on the titles, all contribute to the sense of the period, when an ideology based on nationalist violence ruled Italy and spread throughout Europe. The confusion of the era, spanning pre-WW I through the eve of WW II, with Mussolini's evolution from socialism to nationalism to fascism, is accurately rendered.
Award-winning actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno plays Ida with remarkable passion, contrasting with the cold indifference of Mussolini, played by Filippo Timi. Ida's protracted travails underscore just how long Mussolini's rule lasted (in contrast to Hitler's 12-year "1000 year Reich"). You can watch it as a remarkable human tragedy or grand historical drama. It works on both levels.
This is the second time in as many years (Sanguepazzo, 2008) that the Mussolini era and fascism have been reexamined on the Italian big screen.
Vincere (it may have the unfortunate title of Win! in English) comes out in limited US release in March.