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Archive for September, 2011

Vincere directed by Marco Bellochio 2010, is an Italian movie about a bit of Italian history: the struggle of Ida Dalser, lover of Benito Albino Mussolini, for public recognition for herself as his wife, and the paternity of her son, as parts of the life of Benito Mussolini and his place in history. It’s a passionate movie but a sad tale.

Ida Dalser encounters Mussolini early in his career, while he publishes the Popolo d’Italia newsletter and begins to define his aggressive political stance. Following him, and falling in love with him, she supports Benito financially as well as physically, and will eventually bear his son before discovering that Mussolini has been married with children, all this time unbeknownst to her. Although she and Mussolini become more distant as he rises to success and political power, she never loses her emotional connection to him despite the separation, and she struggles valiantly to obtain legal recognition of the paternity of her son.

It is her failure to let go of this issue, that becomes problematic for Mussolini. The fascist party he heads, does it’s best to silence her. Claiming her accusations are false, and labelling her insane, the police have her institutionalized in an asylum for the deranged, and she is stripped of custody of her son. Her treatment is not more tortuous than that suffered by many of the ex-wives of Henry the VIII. But it is the ease by which she is stripped of human rights–her identity and personal voice– and metaphorically imprisoned for mere political purposes, that is the true horror of her situation.

She makes many valiant attempts at escape, and survives over ten years institutionalized. But the treatment becomes more severe as she resists submission and refuses to deny the paternity claim. Ultimately, well into Mussolini’s dictatorship and pre-eminence, Ida and her son will die early deaths while institutionalized. Ida of brain hemorhage and her son will also die at the age of 27 of anti-convulsant drugs. Neither Ida’s claims of her legal marriage to Mussolini, nor the paternity claim, were ever proven. Yet her story lived on, in the tales of those who knew her, well after Mussolini was exocuted by the partisans he fought against, and Italy was freed from his tyranny.

While I watched this movie I was aware of several things. This was an Italian film, directed and produced, with actual historical footage interspersed. It almost had an air of propaganda about it, romanticizing the glory of violent and passionate political struggle. Yet this was not “Dr. Zhivago”. As an American, raised in a democratic culture with a relatively stable and structured judiciary and political system, I had a completely different perspective and expectations of political behavior. I couldn’t perceive any “romance” in the violent mobs’ rioting as portrayed in the movie. I didn’t see any glamour in the silhouettes of running citizens escaping smoke and gunfire. That would terrify me to see happen in America. And yet this was the glory and violence praised by the fascists, versus the alternative of “peace and quiet”. What is so glorious about violence and rioting? Immediate gratification with the illusion of political power and change, but all it seemed to result in, was the excuse for martial law. Martial law strips power from individual citizens, and laid the way for a dictator like Mussolini.

As I watched “Vincere”, I began to wonder, who really were the winners? Obedience to blind passion, physical or political, may appeal to the most human of instincts. But ultimately, without the legal protection for civil rights and regard for individual integrity, “freedom” is meaningless. Even as our country is derided for all it’s blunders and imperfections, as Americans, we should appreciate we are people living in a country with some of the highest protections for human rights in the world.

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