The Review: Italians do a lot of things well. Anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to visit that country will have appreciated the art, the food, the scenery and the hot-headed passion. And it’s the hot-headed passion that’s at the forefront here, in the life story of Ida Dalser, who may or may not have been Mussolini’s first wife.
This is the nation that gave us opera, after all, and that heightened sense of drama and emotion is on display from the first scene, where we are introduced to Mussolini where he attempts to disprove the existence of God to a group of angry local activists. While most are angered, Ida stands at the back of the room, completely enraptured. We are then launched into a flurry of images, newsreel, on-screen captions and short scenes that flit back and forward in the early years of the relationship between the two, and the effect is enticing.
Just as Ida gets sucked in, we are also sucked in to the power, but as things turn bad and the movie transitions into Ida’s struggles to get what she believes is rightfully hers, what keeps us totally involved in events is the central performance of Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Ida. Passionate, headstrong and fearless (both in character and performance), Mezzogiorno allows us to remain attached to Ida’s downward spiral, without ever asking us to empathise with the motivations of the characters on every side.
A few of the other characters stand out, but the facelessness of the enemy and the abstraction of Mussolini himself actually articulate Ida’s plight more effectively. And although the ending is constrained by the desire of the film to out-turn roughly in line with historic events, and the film just presents fascism as A Bad Idea, rather than getting into too many ideological debates, there are still some memorable images that linger after the screen turns black.
Why see it at the cinema: When Ida is watching Chaplain’s ‘The Kid’ and reflecting on her own experiences, it’s one of the best evocations of the joy and power of cinema since ‘Cinema Paradiso’.
The Score: 8/10