Take the melodramatic intensity of twenties Soviet cinema and combine it with the artistic pretentions of fifties art cinema, especially from the likes of the Powell-Pressburger oeuvre and the post-neorelism Visconti, and tape it all together with the post May '68 cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, and you may begin to get just where Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio, and his latest film Vincere, is coming from. You may not like it, depending on your views of all those aforementioned cinematic schools of thought, but you will most definitely get it - even if it is merely to scoff at its audacious pompous glory. And just like all those same said cinematic schools of thought, Bellocchio's cinema is a derisive cinema. A love it or hate it cinema. A cinema that Peter Griffin may say insists upon itself. A cinema you may not like, but still a cinema you will get - even if that getting is not necessarily understanding but merely a way to rail against art cinema. A getting that is just enough to make you dislike it even more. Hate it perhaps. Lucky for me, I both get it and like it.
Grandiose and almost Grand Guignol (in a pseudo-decorative manner of speaking), Vincere is the story of a young Mussolini's tossed-aside mistress and wayward, half-acknowledged child, and their dual descent into madness. A descent of operatic proportions and visual cinematic opulence that are the director's desired forte. Don't mind the extraneous hyperbole, but a sort of Dante-inspired rollercoaster ride straight to Hell if you will. And all this is done with some of the most gorgeous imagery imaginable. There are certain scenes in this film - about half a dozen or more - that defy any sort of belief. Mesmerizing and gloriously obvious in their making, these set pieces are used as cinematic anchors in a way, in order to make what is essentially a biopic (and would otherwise fall prey to the tired, sanctimonious mediocrity of the genre) stand up and get noticed.
Not to say the acting does not deserve notice as well - the lead performances of Giovanna Mezzogiorno as the long suffering jilted mistress Ida Dalser and Filippo Timi as both the future dictator and his own grown son are as much a wonder to watch as the set pieces. But then, one would expect, at the very least, strong and nubile performances from a biopic (that is usually all such films do have going for them) and we are certainly not disappointed here. It is the very structure of the film, told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, combined with these two brilliant performances and the aforementioned set pieces, that make Vincere pop where otherwise it would not. With a flare that is certainly not to everyone's tastes (those who scoff at the likes of Bergman and Fellini, surely scoff at Bellocchio as well!) and the usurping of the depths of film history (I forgot to make mention of Mezzogiorno's Maria Falconetti-like demeanor as the persecuted lost mistress) Vincere is a grand structure of cinematic audacity not seen much these days outside of a handful of cinephiliac auteurs. You may not like it - even if you do indeed get it - but the ride sure is fun either way. At least I thought it was. [05/27/10]