I kind of wish this movie was a bit more like those educational films. I don’t feel like I learned enough about Mussolini. In the filmmakers defense, I don’t think they were trying for that. Perhaps because films had been made about him before (going back to Charlie Chaplin), they felt like this would be a different take – dealing with his first wife and son, who Mussolini never acknowledges.
The movie had an operatic feel, at times reminding me of Evita. And some of those touches it had were interesting – newsreel footage and headlines across the screen.
Obviously, the filmmaker wasn’t going for a straight biopic. Since I know so little about Mussolini, I wished it were.
It starts with a strong opening scene, with him “proving” there’s no god. And his first few meetings with new lover Ida Dalser (played very well by Giovanna Mezzogiorno) are interesting.
It’s crazy enough that Dalser sells everything to give him money to start a newspaper and can be abandon the way she was. Even stranger that she had to spend 11 years in an asylum (the son was taken away, and he eventually dies in his mid-20s from some drug induced coma medication – which wasn’t shown in this movie). It made me wonder if she just went crazy because she loves him and he continued ignoring her. Or, was she a woman that did have mental problems and was the stalker type?
I was fascinated by how the silent films were shown, with the crowd getting into fights and the piano player going playing fast and furious (it’s strange in a day and age of cell phones bugging you in a theatre, to think of a time when a piano player sat in front of the screen adding the musical score to what you’re seeing on screen).
There were nice locations; and this will probably get an Oscar nomination for costume design. All that isn’t enough for me to recommend the movie.
I’d suggest you rent one of the earlier Mussolini films. There are some with talented actors like George C. Scott, Bob Hoskins, and even Antonio Banderas.
On a scale where I rate this against other historic period pieces, it gets a C-.