If Giovanna Mezzogiorno wants to be Italy’s answer to Angelina Jolie, “Vincere” is her “Changeling,” and how unfortunate. “Vincere,” directed by Marco Bellocchio, is the story of Ida Dalser, the first wife of Benito Mussolini and mother to his first son, Benito Albino Mussolini. By World War I, Mussolini had finished with her and married Rachele Guidi, resorting to a dictator-style divorce of Dalser by taking her child, dumping her in an insane asylum and having all records of their union effaced, save for the marriage certificate she hid, never to be found.
Bellocchio does neither the character nor the actress any favors in making Dalser’s passion such an amour fou — in the first few scenes, she falls instantly for the future Il Duce when, at a Socialist meeting, he gives God a five minute window to prove his divine existence by striking Mussolini down. She tracks him to a protest, and beds him the scene after, without the two having exchanged a word. At the theater, he watches the screen while she watches him, adoringly; later, she sells all of her things, including her store and apartment, to help fund his new newspaper. He’s more in love with war (“War! War! War!” they sing on the soundtrack and blaze on the screen) and furious political ambitions. As played by Filippo Timi, Mussolini is a stylized character — he’s Mussolini — and in that early time Dalser seems so too, the pair in their black-clad overheated clinches recalling nothing so much as Gomez and Morticia Adams, romancing amidst operatic film flourishes and archive footage. It’s weird, but it has potential — alas, soon Mussolini fades from the screen, though his presence looms off it, and “Vincere” becomes the would-be woeful tale of Dalser’s persecution. By then it’s far too late to be asked to invest in her as a suffering martyr to history — she’s been drawn as scary and a bit genuinely crazy, not to mention maddeningly delusional about Mussolini’s coming to retrieve her and oblivious to how unwise her continued shouting about her connection to him is when he’s denied her existence, refused contact and has her continually surveilled. Unfortunately, “He Just Not That Into You” would not be published for decades.