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.

Mary and Max

Mary and Max

Mary, who experiences alienation in every aspect of her life, starts out with parents who are poor, weird, and unsympathetic (her father is into taxidermy, her mother is an alcoholic who seems to do nothing but yell at her) and eventually end up dead. The visible evidence that she is neglected at home makes her a pariah at school in spite of the fact that it is the other children who are overtly engaging in bad behavior (at one point, she comes to school with a coat fastened with clothespins because her pet chicken pecked off the buttons and nobody sewed them back on, and other children harrass her in the schoolyard, with one boy going so far as to pee on her sandwich in plain sight). In an attempt to remedy her loneliness, she picks Max’s name at random out of a phone book, and is lucky enough to get a reply back from someone who is obviously sympathetic and intelligent.  Max’s letters ring true to Asperger’s style: full of plain speaking, factual details, and jumping from one topic to another, but in the eyes of society and her mother, potentially dangerous and unsuitable for children. Maybe it was Max’s mention of having been a mental patient, or the frank but inappropriate discussion of his sex life (or rather, the lack thereof) that sets the mother off when she finds the first letter and throws it away, believing she is protecting her child. In spite of how this looks to her mother (and most average people), correspondence with someone who has been in her shoes as a social outcast is exactly what Mary needs. Contrary to a lot of recent portrayals, it is possible for people with Asperger’s to have friends, but in view of the fact that some of the things they do and say go against society’s notion of what is considered appropriate, this perhaps can lead to a bonding with people on the margins of society.

(Speaking of inappropriate things and portrayals of sexuality, Australia’s movie and video industry must have somewhat different standards of what is considered appropriate to show in a picture purportedly for children than prevail in the USA. Let’s just say this was the first time I’ve seen claymation genitals.)

Luckily for Mary’s emotional equilibrium, she is in a position to send another letter in which she describes the situation to Max, and comes up with a solution: he will henceforth send his letters to the address of an elderly neighbor whom she helps out.

The premise of the possibility of pen pals who can have a years-long and very intense relationship without engaging in physical contact of any sort is a theme of this and a handful of other films such as My Japanese Wife (perhaps it is increasing in popularity as global communications of every sort are becoming more widespread?)

Admittedly, some of the reactions they have to one another’s letters seem exaggerated for effect, such as the fact that Max’s objection to being used as a case study for the sake of her career in psychology sends her into a spiral of suicidality and some of Mary’s letters sent Max into “meltdown” mode and in one case, effected his return to the mental health system (where he would be told he had Asperger’s Syndrome, in spite of the fact that it was way too early in the timeline for such a thing to be possible in real life, as Asperger’s was only recognized by the American Psychological Association in 1994. And yes, someone who really does have Asperger’s really would have a problem with a purportedly serious and sensitive movie set in a specific temporal period getting a widely-known piece of factual information so glaringly wrong!)

In spite of the claymation medium, which is usually reserved for less-than-serious examples of the cinematic oeuvre, I found myself liking the overall gestalt of this picture in spite of having some problems with particular parts of it.

Movie Review by Laura Brose