Reviewed by: Val Kermode

This is the story of a passionate woman scorned by her lover. The woman is Ida Dalser (beautifully played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her lover is Benito Mussolini. They meet briefly in 1907 when Mussolini is marching with the Socialists and Ida helps him escape from the police. In 1914, just before the outbreak of war, they meet again in Milan and become lovers.

Ida is besotted with this power hungry young man with such a strong belief in his own destiny. When he declares himself pro-war and intends to set up his own newspaper, she sells everything she has to give him the start he needs. At this point he says “I suppose I should marry you”. A year later she bears him a son. But then she and her son are brutally cast aside and Mussolini denies that they were ever married. When Ida persists in her claim to be his wife she is taken away to a lunatic asylum and soon afterwards her son is kidnapped by the Fascists.

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Filippo Timi is excellent as the young, supremely egotistical Mussolini. He conveys his love of manipulating those around him, from the opening scene, where he dares God to strike him down, through the rallies where he triumphantly stirs up violence.

Newsreel footage of the real Mussolini is woven into the story and in many scenes events unfold in front of a cinema screen showing the progress of the war. A fight breaks out in a cinema as the pianist continues to play ever more frantically. Later Ida is alone in the cinema with her baby, while Benito lies wounded in a hospital bed where a film of the Crucifixion is being shown, projected on the baroque ceiling. At one point Ida cries as she watches Chaplin’s The Kid and longs for her own son. A kind doctor advises her to set aside her claim and act the part of an ordinary, submissive woman, suggesting that under the Fascist regime they all need to be actors for a while.

The scene of Ida and Benito’s wedding appears late in the film and is shot in a way that suggests it may be fantasy. Ida never produces her all-important wedding certificate, though she is seen hiding a paper, perhaps to save it from destruction. We will probably never know how much of this is true. Confusingly, when Ida tells Benito she is pregnant she then sees that he already has a wife and son. But later she always refers to her son, Benito Albino, as his first-born. Bellocchio, who also wrote the screenplay, presents this as a tragic love story. But recently uncovered evidence shows that Mussolini did originally acknowledge his son and that Ida brought serious political allegations against him when the relationship soured. Possibly the real Ida was more politically involved than this film suggests and felt the betrayal of her ideals when she refused to be silenced. Whatever the truth, this is a story intriguingly told.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2010
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The story of Musslolini's secret love child.
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Director: Marco Bellocchio

Writer: Marco Bellocchio, Daniela Ceselli

Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Corrado Invernizzi, Fausto Russo Alesi, Michela Cescon, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Paolo Pierobon, Bruno Cariello, Francesca Picozza, Simona Nobili, Giovanna Mori, Silvia Ferretti, Corinne Castelli, Patrizia Bettini, Fabrizio Costella

Year: 2009

Runtime: 128 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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