I'd rather watch "Springtime for Hitler!"

Vincere (2009)
Directed and written by Marco Bellocchio
In Italian with subtitles, 128 mins. Not rated (nudity)

Does this sound like a promising movie premise? How about a film about the love life of Benito Mussolini? You know—the good old days when the twentieth century dawned and dashing young Benito was a revolutionary socialist atheist with enough fire to burn the candle at both ends with a wife and a mistress. Then let’s snip away all the connective narrative tissue that might ground viewers in the story and jump to World War I. Then let’s jump again to when Mussolini comes to power in1922—with the help of the Catholic Church—and finds it expedient to stick Ida Dalser, his mistress (and perhaps bigamous second wife), in a mental institution and her son, young Benito, into a boys’ academy run by nuns. Now let’s watch both Ida and young Benito go insane. Sound like a great movie? Let’s not mince words: Vincere, Italian for “win” is a loser of a film. In fact, it flat out sucks—easily one of the year’s worst films.

Oddly, it has gotten some critical acclaim. Part of this is because some American and British critics think that any director from continental Europe must be an auteur. The real reason, though, is that the film looks stylish, as long as you don’t probe very deeply. Director Marco Bellocchio has been making films since the early 1960s, but only Enrico IV (1984) and Elena (1997) have made much of a splash. Despite nearly fifty years of filmmaking Bellocchio does the sort of things one might expect of a film school student. Vincere looks good, but only upon first impression. Bellocchio superimposes cartoon graphics, newsreel footage, and flashbacks over the main narrative. He also drains the color from frames to give a film noir feel to telescoped time sequences. There are also several painterly moments; one scene of Ida climbing the bars of an outdoor asylum porch in a raging snowstorm is stunningly beautiful.

Good stuff, yes? Well… like a film student, Bellocchio doesn’t seem to know that a one-trick pony is only good for one spin around the ring. Like this stuff the first time? How about the second? And the third? And… Equally amateurish is the manner in which he tried to break conventional narrative. It’s as if someone told him that it’s oh-so-cool to do that these days. This works well for an interior mystery such as Memento, but the technique simply makes no sense whatsoever for a biopic. If you don’t walk out—not a bad option—you’ll spend much of your time trying to figure out who’s who, where you are in time and space, and whether you should care.

Even more damning is the utter lack of character development. I suppose it’s a talent of sorts to make a monster like Mussolini (Filippo Timi) boring, but it doesn’t make interesting viewing. At least Ida (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) shows some emotion in the early steamy sex scenes—poor old Benito doesn’t even seem plugged in then (so to speak). And once Ida is dumped, she spends the rest of the film having things done to her and ceases to be anything other than a cardboard character. Even more baffling is young Benito. The film takes us through his life from age nine to twenty-six at lightening speed. His transition from sunny, dutiful son to stark raving mad takes place in an instant and makes no sense whatsoever.

Don’t even dream of seeing this film unless you first read about Mussolini’s life because there’s not enough narrative thread in Vincere to knit an infant’s sock. After you have read about Mussolini, another question will arise: What’s the point in making this film? It’s not a love story, it lacks the development necessary to make it a tragedy, there’s not enough depth for a character study, and—the clincher—the very notion of humanizing Mussolini is repulsive. What Mussolini did to Ida Dalser was horrific, but it ranks fairly low on his rap sheet. The crowning moment of Il Duce’s career came in 1945, when partisans of Free Italy lined him against the wall and shot him. I don’t wish this fate for Bellocchio, but the world would no worse if a page was torn from the Fascist playbook and every copy of this film was burned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They say he made the Italian trains run on time but really, there's no evidence for this. However they do more or less run on time now so it's progress of sorts.