By Utpal Borpujari in Cannes
An unknown, dark chapter from the personal life of early 20th century Italian dictator Benito Mussolini unfolded on the big screen for the first time at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday as Competition film “Vincere” brought alive the tragic story of his first wife and son, who were never given their due recognition by him.
The Italian film, directed by Marco Bellocchio, makes the storytelling effective by using a large amount of documentary footage, mixing reality with fiction to tale the tale of Ida Irene Dalser, the daughter of a wealthy man who gave her everything for the welfare of Mussolini, only to be spurned and sent to a mental asylum by the vengeful dictator.
Even their son, Benito Albino Mussolini, who was first recognized by the Duce as his son exactly two months after his birth on November 11, 1915, was deprived from the Mussolini name through a royal decree in 1932. And he too was sent to a mental asylum where he died just like his mother after facing prolonged torture.
The film begins with the young Ida getting impressed by the speeches of the bashful Mussolini, then working with the newspaper “Avanti!”. When he was fired from his job for his interventionism and influence of Futurism, Ida sold her beauty salon and apartment to help him start the newspaper “Il Popolo d’Italia”, which later became the official mouthpiece of the National Fascist Party.
The film then goes into how Mussolini abandons Ida and later how he refused to give her and their son the due recognition despite her valiant and repeated efforts. The tragic story ends with she being sent to the mental asylum where she would die without seeing her son ever again.
With the politics of the times forming a constant backdrop, the film in its later part shows only the real Mussolini through documentary footage, as Ida sees him only on the official newsreels delivering speeches forwarding his Fascist ideologies.
Bellocchio discovered about Ida and Benito when he watched a documentary titled “Il Segreto di Mussolini (Mussolini’s Secret)”.
“I immediately got the impression that Ida Dalser, who had a child with Mussolini, was an extraordinary woman, a woman who refuses to remain quiet about the truth, right to the bitter end, despite the fact that the regime made every attempt to destroy all traces of it,” says the director.
He found out that while Mussolini made all efforts to erase all traces of their existence, in Trentino, where Ida grew up, people still clearly remember this tragedy that has been left out of official history.
“Luckily, there have been two books published full of documents and witness statements: ‘Mussolini’s Wife’ by Marco Zeni and ‘The Duce’s Secret Son’ by Alfredo Pieroni. They include the huge number of letters that Ida wrote to the highest authorities, including the Pope and Mussolini himself, begging to be recognised as Mussolini’s lawfully-wedded wife and the mother of his first born,” says Bellocchio.
“Mussolini was a violent, calculating, merciless man, even towards the woman he loved and his own son,” he says.