Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Marco Bellocchio
Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi
(Not Rated, 128 min.)
"Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart; ‘Tis woman’s whole existence." Lord Byron
What Mussolini did to Italy, he first did to the mother of his first-born son. Sweeping her off her feet with a passion as insatiable as the depths of his ambition, he then tramples her underfoot with never a look back.
The story of Benito Mussolini’s love and abandonment of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) sweeps across the screen with the same chaotic power that swept through Europe during the first half of our twentieth century. We are drawn into that whirlwind just as Ida is into the arms of the young firebrand.
Our first glimpse of Mussolini (Filippo Timi) shows his flamboyant style – big on drama, short on substance. He will prove that God does not exist, taking out a large silver timepiece for all to see. “If you exist, God, then I give you five minutes to strike me down.” Even his fellow unionists find the display cheap and empty, and he is ejected from the hall, but the starry-eyed Ida looks on with the complacent approval of a mother at her child’s first violin recital, sour notes never reaching her ears.
There is nothing maternal, however, in their next scene, where Ida’s lips seek her lover with a hungry passion. Mussolini ‘s efforts in what one critic called frank, yet not graphic lovemaking, are eager, yet somehow detached, almost as if he is enjoying his effect on her more than anything else.
Although Ida, a successful businesswoman, sells her salon, her jewels, and almost all her belongings to finance Benito’s newspaper, he throws her and the son she bears him aside as easily as he does his early pacifist, anti-cleric, and socialist beliefs. Yet it is not so much the story – how many women have been cast aside by such men throughout history – that intrigues us as its telling.
Director Bellocchio reminds me of my Italian grandmother who could make the most delicious concoction from whatever was at hand in her kitchen. She called it giambotte, literally, “everything jumbled together,” and it was exquisite yet unique every time. So Bellocchio weaves together old newsreel footage and stages silent films complete with the piano player onstage tickling the ivories into melodramatic orgies. The political factions view these newsreels, and broadcast their opposing views at each other like twin choruses from the opera, just before they erupt into a fistfight. It’s almost as lively as family dinners from my youth.
Other times, we are part of a living Renaissance painting, as the scene in the hospital, where Mussolini lies recovering from his war wounds. The sets of beds form a kind of base relief for the huge screen image on the wall depicting the crucifixion of Christ. Of course the recovering Mussolini sees himself in the iconic image, and he accepts the attendance from the nuns, and the visit of the king to his bedside as his due. It seems he has developed an oportunistic separate peace with both Church and State. Gone are his earlier revolutionary rages: “With the guts of the last pope we’ll strangle the last king.”
So Ida, a true believer from his earlier radical days, is an inconvenience; the more pliable mistress, Rachel, shall become his wife. The film handles Ida’s assertions that she is already his wife with delicate ambiguity. As it does the aspect of her sanity.
We see her lying in bed at her sister’s house, remembering the day of her wedding to Benito. Ida is luminous in her white gown, Benito very serious and stern. But is it a true memory or a created one, an idee fixe that she cannot abandon even as she has been? Ida insists all records of the ceremony have been expunged at Mussolini’s request, yet she retains a single copy of the document. Is her refusal to show it to the authorities proof that it doesn’t exist or just a prudent measure in light of her suspicions?
Another effective technique is the disappearance of the actor playing Mussolini from the screen at just the same time he disappears from Ida’s life. Thereafter only the public image of Il Duce appears. He is no longer the mustachioed and onetime ardent lover played so well by Filippo Timi, but the ranting caricature caught on historic footage, cold, distant, and impersonal despite his histrionic posing.
We also glance into the snake pit of life in the asylum, where the troublesome Ida is placed in 1926. The kindly yet intransigent nuns follow the treatment of the day, tying the patients to their beds at night and restricting the rebellious ones to straightjackets. If the obsessed Ida is not deranged before such incarceration, how can she hold to the remnant of her sanity there?
Yet Bellocchio finds visual beauty even in these tragic conditions. The large metal screen that borders the institution is beautiful in its own way, and its curving arches are all the better to hold climbing feet. In one scene, a snowy night, Ida climbs some 15 feet aloft and stares into the darkness relieved by large white flakes. Then she casts her owns white parcels into the mix, the letters of redress she writes to the Pope, and the government. Her protests are as still and silent as the snow.
Yet now, three quarters of a century after Ida Dalser’s death, the title of the film rings with irony. Vincere those words sung by fascist soldiers, “to win, win, win,” to defeat, to vanquish, to surpass, are not the words we associate with Mussolini, whose corpse was hung upside down to be spit upon by his disillusioned countrymen.
Perhaps it is finally Ida who has won.
According to the Italian documentary, “Mussolini’s Secret,” Mussolini married Ida Dasler in Milan in 1914, at the start of the First World War. There were only a few short happy years for the woman who gave all for the man she loved, devoted to him long after he abandoned and coldly rejected her.
Let us celebrate that wedding, even if the official documents have been destroyed. Ida remembered that day, even if contemporary history did not. And what better way to celebrate the occasion than with this delicious dish from Milan, Veal Piccata, served up with Prosciutto, lemon, and parsley? (You can substitute chicken or turkey breast, if you like.)
Veal Piccata Milanese
Veal piccata is a Milanese specialty that calls for thinly sliced veal, but can also be made with chicken or turkey breast. Quick, tasty, and zesty.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
- 1 pound (450 g) thinly sliced veal
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter
- 2 fairly thick (1/8 inch, or 3 mm) slices prosciutto
- 2 tablespoons flour
- The juice of a half a lemon
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) broth (or bouillon)
- Salt & pepper
- A slice of lemon and a sprig of parsley
Slice the prosciutto slices widthwise to obtain match-stick sized pieces. Mince the parsley.
Wet a broad-bladed knife with cold water and gently pound the slices to thin them, taking care not to punch through them. Put the flour, a healthy pinch of salt and a grind of pepper in a paper bag. Pat the cutlets dry, put them into the bag (one at a time) and shake the bag to flour them.
Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a skillet and sauté the prosciutto slivers for about five minutes. Turn the heat to high and add the veal, turning the slices as soon as their undersides are done (you want to cook them rapidly, before they give off a great flood of water). As soon as the slices are done, remove them to a serving dish and keep them warm. Return the pan to the fire, add the broth, and stir up the drippings that have stuck to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Let the juices cook down a little, then remove the pan from the fire and stir in the remaining butter, the lemon juice, and the minced parsley. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve, with the lemon and parsley as garnish.
This recipe is Italian. The recipe is by now known worldwide, however, and as a variation, the Joy Of Cooking suggests 2 tablespoons rinsed capers (I'd go with salted, not pickled) instead of prosciutto,and using olive oil instead of the butter, as well as chicken breast substituted for the veal. It sounds tasty
Recipe Source: About.com