As Noel Megahey observed in his perceptive cinema review for this site, Vincere is a work divided into two halves, and done so quite skillfully. It seems to absorb the way that its protagonist perceives her lover from one half to the next via the film's own visual and dramatic style. Had the lover been simply a man of power and politics, real or fictional, Marco Bellocchio's approach to the material would still have the potential to be quite intriguing. The fact that the lingering presence is actually Benito Mussolini gives Vincere a number of additional layers. Bellocchio uses the sad tale of Ida Dalser to capture Mussolini's treatment of the people of Italy, from the dizzying, romantic intoxication of the initial stages of love to eventually being ignored and suppressed at the expense of freedom.
It follows that the film's first half, especially the initial thirty or so minutes that lead up to a brilliantly staged scene where Ida experiences a truth about her Benito that takes on the mood of a horror or suspense movie, is the more showy piece. Even the opening of the picture, with Mussolini as the charismatic and vocal editor of the Socialist newspaper Avanti! who dares God to strike him dead if He exists, feels like a particularly auspicious way to begin a story revolving around one of the most notorious dictators in history.
Written and directed by Bellocchio, Vincere concerns the secret wife and mother to the first-born child of Mussolini. It seems that, when compiling the long list of Il Duce's terrible qualities, we can now add bigamist and deadbeat dad. Both Ida Dalser and her son Benito Albino were refused any official acknowledgement by the Fascist leader, and instead suffered mightily at the hands of his government. Bellocchio portrays both as steadfast in their insistence of being Mussolini's rightful wife and child. Such conviction by Ida results in her being separated from her son and committed to a mental institution. Her claims are largely dismissed as those of a crazy woman, and the lack of any confirming documentation only furthers that perception. Ida is at one point seen hiding her marriage certificate in what must have been a piece of invention by Bellocchio since the paper was never found by anyone else.
The film chooses to seemingly present Ida's claims as authentic but with a very subtle warning of sorts. The scenes in the first half between Ida and Mussolini show the latter as what can only be described as a physically idealized incarnation. Played by the actor Filippo Timi, this man hardly resembles the thick and rounded image of Mussolini most of us know. It is instead the way Ida sees her lover, just as the extremely romanticized style and images from this portion of the movie show their relationship how she must view it. The cinematic touches by Bellocchio here are dazzling, including the inventive use of onscreen graphics to indicate where and when the events seen are taking place. In the second half, Bellocchio opts to show Mussolini exclusively through the use of black and white newsreel footage and it feels much more distancing than the earlier approach of having Timi be such a forceful presence.
This latter section also focuses on the institutionalized horrors that befall Ida. What had been a cool but sleek look to the film takes on a different, harsher feel, one where the lack of warm colors is more ominous. Timi disappears before reemerging later as Benito Albini, who's now taken to impersonating his father in front of friends. The attention shifts to Giovanna Mezzogiorno's performance as Ida. Any glamour that had been there before, either in the character or the actress, is removed, to the point where it seems like you can physically see the continued effects of time and stress on Ida's face. Mezzogiorno crafts her character so that both clear-eyed, yet frustrated sanity and something far more delusional come across as equally viable possibilities. Hers is the performance that holds the film together, while Bellocchio's considerable talents make it something far more surprising.
Vincere is released on Blu-ray in the UK by Artificial Eye. The single-layered disc is not region coded. A separate DVD version is also available.
The 1080p image looks really quite marvelous on this disc, and is an excellent showcase for how evocative Daniele Cipri's cinematography can be. The transfer displays the richly textured qualities of film well and is particularly impressive in the movie's many dark scenes. Shadow detail is rendered superbly. Color tones remain true to the very cold palette of dark blues and browns. When a flash of red and green appears in a cut to the Italian flag, those colors also display extremely muted appearances. Skin tones are consistent throughout the picture. The level of sharpness here is more than acceptable. There is no damage to report. The transfer also shows no signs of excessive digital manipulation or other problems. It's presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
An Italian language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track makes the most of Vincere's soundtrack. Dialogue sounds clear and consistent, with outbursts registering as well as need be. The few sound effects used are spread across the speakers without incident. Sweeping orchestral pieces sometimes ring a little off in the context of the film but they are reproduced on the disc unencumbered, if maybe a bit less enveloping than the heft of the score would suggest. English language subtitles are optional and white in color.
Extra features are limited to an interview (10:29) with actor Filippo Timi and the film's UK trailer (1:57). The Timi interview is in standard definition and matted to 1.33:1. It's in Italian with English subtitles that appear at the top of the screen. Timi discusses his philosophy to acting and playing Mussolini, among other things, and comes across as a very engaging subject.