In 1914 Milan, fiery socialist journalist Benito Mussolini (Timi) meets and marries Ida Dalser (Mezzogiorno), who gives up her life to support her husband, and soon gives birth to a son (Costella and later Timi). But during the Great War, Benito disappears and then resurfaces with a new wife Rachele (Cescon) and a team of goons who forcibly keep Ida away, eventually locking her away in a mental institution and sidelining her son. But as Benito shifts into fascism and rises to enormous power, she refuses to give up without a fight.
The title comes from the soldiers' chant, "Win!" Which pretty much defines Mussolini's attitude in life, as he arrogantly pursued power at any cost, including his first wife and child, not to mention his idealism and principles.
And in some ways this is the film's main problem, as it offers a self-aware, one-sided portrait of this giant historical figure as a brutal leader blinded by his relentless cruelty. Timi also plays him this way, which makes it feel like a rather superficial portrait.
But then the film isn't about him. And Mezzogiorno is an astonishing bundle of love and fury who carries us through the disjointed timeline and somewhat repetitive structure. Through her eyes, the historical milestones take on new meaning and side characters develop into intriguingly helpful and/or sinister figures in her wrenching life story. By the end, Mezzogiorno's performance is so powerful that we feel like we've endured decades of horror with her.
Filmmaker Bellocchio assembles this with a galloping pace that sometimes loses us. Much of it is cleverly shot in the style of a 1920s film, which makes it feel instantly recognisable and eerily evocative, especially as events are punctuated with black and white recreations of news and propaganda clips that blur fiction with reality. And all of this beautifully highlights Ida's gruelling life story, which leaves us pretty shattered too. Not just at the personal tragedy of Ida and her son, but of Italy's too.
Run time: 128 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 20th May 2009
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: Offside
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 83 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Producer: Mario Gianani
Screenwriter: Marco Bellocchio