A Second Chance for Vincere

A scene from Marco Bellocchio's Vincere

When a film you did not particularly enjoy wins a critics award, it dredges up a series of thoughts and questions. This happened to me when Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno received the National Society of Film Critics Award for best actress. Mezzogiorno was rewarded for her portrayal of Ida Dalser, Benito Mussolini’s alleged first wife, in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere. I saw most of Vincere at the Cannes Film Festival and from what I remembered, it was not my favorite film.

This was my first impression:

Vincere, however, is another story. I walked out after an hour and a half. The biopic tells the story of Mussolini’s first wife, Ida Dalser, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno. Dalser married Mussolini in 1914 but the Italian dictator denied their marriage. She spent much of her life confined in asylums. The film does not do this compelling story justice. It is poorly constructed with too much emphasis on found footage. It does not concretely establish the foundation of the relationship, making Ida an unsympathetic character. All in all, not worth the 30 minute wait in the rush line.

I admit that I didn’t give Vincere a fair chance. Of course I have many excuses for why I walked out. It was the middle of the festival and I was exhausted. I had just seen Pedro Almodovar’s Los Abrazos Rotos that morning… and I was exhausted.  I had to be at my internship at 1 p.m. and the movie started at around 11:30. After the wait in the rush line and a first hour that I found less than enjoyable, leaving early made sense.

Then I forgot about Vincere. It barely made a dent in my memories of Cannes.

After learning that Mezzogiorno was named the best actress over favorites like Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, I realized that maybe I should give Vincere my full attention.

After watching Vincere in its entirety, some of my opinions are the same. It is a compelling story but the interpretation was scattered.  The found footage can be jarring and off-putting. Ida Dalser is a character who teeters on the edge of sympathetic, crazy, and irritating.

What struck me more profoundly is how Vincere is all about seduction. The opening sequence is of Mussolini, played by Filippo Timi, delivering an emphatic challenge to God to strike him down if God does exist. In the audience is Ida Dalser watching Mussolini with a piercing stare as she becomes seduced by his charisma, energy, and rhetoric. This is followed by the first use of found footage and Carlo Crivelli’s operatic score. The word, Vincere, is flashed over phallic imagery of smokestacks that can easily be interpreted as weaponry. The footage segues into images of industry, trains, cathedrals, and fashion models – images that are representative of Milan. The found footage and newsreels provides the historical context for Mussolini’s rise to power and it shows how Mussolini seduced the Italian people. It is fascinating how Mussolini’s sexual seduction of Dalser is equated with his rise to political power.

Dalser holds no power over Mussolini, yet he controls every aspect of her life. Mezzogiorno’s performance as this scorned woman resigned to living in asylums takes center stage. I’m still not crazy about Vincere but it is Mezzogiorno’s mesmerizing performance that carries this film.

“Vincere” means “to win” which is an ironic title because no one – not Dalser, the Italians, and certainly not Mussolini – wins at the film’s conclusion. Except, maybe, the audience. I see that now.

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Les Winners

I’m leaving for the US in a few minutes so I am going to quickly post the Cannes Film Festival winners.

Palme d’Or

The White Ribbon – dir. Michael Haneke

Grand Prix

A Prophet – dir. Jacques Audiard

Special career prize

Alain Resnais

Best Actor

Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Best Actress

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Antichrist

Best Director

Filipino Brillante Mendoza – Kinatay

Best Screenplay

Mei Feng – Spring Fever

Jury prize (shared)

Fish Tank – dir. Andrea Arnold

Thirst – dir. South Korean Park Chan-Wook

Camera D’Or (for debut film)

Samson and Delilah – dir. Warwick Thornton

Best short film

Arena – dir. Joao Salaviza

Last Few Days

Today is the last day of the festival. I saw Un Prophete, which is rumored to win the Palme d’Or. I’m sad the festival is over but I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.

I finished my internship on Friday. It was a good experience, but I never want to work in pubic relations again.

Yesterday I went on a day trip to Eze, a small town about 40 minutes from Cannes. I took a ton of pictures and video which I will upload – along with all of my pictures when I get back to NJ.

I’ll update again when I get back to the States.

L’Avventura

I saw Antonioni’s L’Avventura last night and much of the cast was at the screening. I’ve seen L’Avventura before but not in a theater. I’m now convinced that movie theaters were invented for this film. While it is great on a small screen, Antonioni’s long, drawn out shots that depend entirely on compostition are more impactful when seen on the big screen.

The best part of the screening was a sequence in which Monica Vitti walks out onto a porch. This shot is the poster for this years festival and when the audience realized this, everyone clapped. If there is one thing I will miss about Cannes it is how the audience claps for everything, EVERYTHING. It doesn’t matter if what is great, like this shot, is in the middle of the film, somebody always claps.