The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Though Dadina is a little person and a cultural journal editor with blue hair, she’s hardly the most colorful character in The Great Beauty. That dubious distinction rightly belongs to the performance artist she assigns her protagonist friend Jeb to write about, who headbutts an ancient wall while nude in her performances. Jeb presses Talia Concept to explain her art, but when she can’t she becomes irate and demands “a journalist of greater stature”. Jeb advises her to use caution when using that phrase around his editor, because “she’s a dwarf!” Later he regrets using that exchange in his article and asks Dadina if he should have left it out. “But that was the best part!” she replies.

A friend comes to beg Jeb for assistance in obtaining help for her mentally ill son, but he doesn’t know what to do beyond giving her the phone number of a psychiatrist. The son makes a few dramatic entrances, most notably with his face painted entirely red, making the non-religious Jeb wonder about the influence of Satan.

Jeb has a brief romance with a stripper named Ramona, who has an unexplained invisible disability or illness. Though she looks healthy, she needs to spend a lot of time unmoving, and tells Jeb that she spends all of her earnings trying to cure herself. It’s likely that few people take her seriously about it–even her father thinks she’s probably just a junkie–but she dies suddenly and without explanation.

The final depiction of disability is due to advanced age, in the form of a “bona fide saint”. Sister Maria is so decrepit that Jeb worries every breath will be her last, and she only stirs to talk if it’s to utter something holy. She holds an audience with the faithful in which she seems to have symptoms of Parkinson’s, tapping one foot until the shoe comes off and unnerving the dignitaries assembled to see her. She further upsets her caregivers by insisting on dragging herself up several flights of stairs to worship an ancient painting of Christ.


Vincere purports to be a dramatic retelling of Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy through a more personal perspective than most. 

Here, we see Mussolini as a young man and aspiring politician who actually has hair and had not yet affected a funny hat and a decorated military uniform, but is attending house parties and events, trying to gain support.

He catches Lady Ida Dalser’s eye, and she ends up selling her assets to start a newspaper to support his political ambitions, and giving him the ultimate gift, her body.  The result is that she bears him a son, and he gives her a marriage certificate.   They become separated as a result of WWI.

Unbeknownst to her, he has another marriage and another child, which she discovers when they reunite. When he becomes politically powerful, the public record of her marriage to him strangely disappears (if it ever truly was) and he disavows any legal, financial, and social responsibility towards her and her son Benito Albino.  Perhaps part of his animus towards them was an effort to conceal the fact that he had gotten his start as a Socialist after having switched his political program to Fascist.  When she tries to press for her rights, she is denied, and ends up appearing to be a “madwoman” , getting taken to an asylum run by nuns. 

While men who are in the wind and the life of an impoverished single mother are often enough to give a woman mental problems, it is unclear what, if any, diagnosis she received, or if she truly had a mental illness.  It is shown in the movie that it is quite possible that like the mysterious disappearing marriage license, her continued institutionalization (and the later admittance of her son to the mental health system as well) was the result of Mussolini improperly utilizing the power and instruments of the State that were at his disposal in order to dispose of personal and political enemies, or, in this case, evade child support payments, and public acknowledgment of this wife and son.  In view of the fact that Mussolini wrested a lot of influence from the Church and established a secularistic state system, it would have been a lot simpler to my mind had he just given Dalser a divorce or changed the bigamy laws.  But claiming that your personal and/or political enemies are “crazy” is a time-honored tradition in just about every political system.  The former Soviet government used to have dissidents discredited by sending them not to the gulag, but to mental hospitals.  There is a book about this phenomenon called “Soviet Psychoprisons“. This tactic may well have become established and notorious by the time  Fascist political movements gained ascendancy in Europe, opposing the spread of Communism.  Mussolini had to have gotten this idea from somewhere.

Ida’s claims of a union with Mussolini are initially not believed by the nuns who work in the asylum and other people whom she tries to ask for help, until she encounters a psychiatrist at the asylum who sees evidence that she is speaking the truth and believes her.  He advises her that she is right to want to expose the fact that she considered herself married to Musolini and bore a son by him, but he counsels care and patience, and to ally herself with the Church, because the Church is one of the few forces which can effectively oppose Musolini.  Some of the nuns eventually become sympathetic, but they advise her to give up the fight until one gives her her habit, which she wears to make an escape from the asylum, at least temporarily. 
Vincere derived from the Latin, means “to win or conquer”. While Il Duce appears to be the overt winner here, his one-time consort can be said to achieve a small victory in not letting him psyche her out.

Much of what is in this movie is ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) because much of what transpired between Ida and Mussolini cannot be proven, and evidence is being lost as time passes and superficial understandings of history overshadow the personal remembrances of past events.

This movie was released on DVD in July 2010.