Almost a century on, Italy is acknowledging the tragic stories behind one of the 20th century's most notorious leaders in director Marco Bellocchio's Cannes competition film, "Vincere."
Benito Mussolini hid a secret family througout his quest for power and fascist reign in Italy. Il Duce had a wife and son he later denied and had committed. Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) met Mussolini in Milan when he was the young Socialist editor of Avanti! So taken by the dynamic Mussolini (Filippo Timi) she sold everything she had, including a successful beauty parlor in Milan, to finance Il Popolo d'Italia, a newspaper he founded after being expelled by the Socialists, and a central component of his forthcoming Fascist Party.
After WWI erupts, he enlists in the Army and disappears. Ida eventually finds him again in a military hospital and he is tended to by Rachele, whom he has just married. She continues to pursue Mussolini, but is eventually forced into an insane asylum where she is tortured and dies. Their son, Mussolini's first born, also falls to a similar fate, dying at age 26 in an asylum.
"Ida is a woman who fell madly in love with this man who shared her ideals," said Bellocchio in Cannes Tuesday. "When he cast her aside, she became a tragic figure in history." Bellocchio said she naturally became enraged with Mussolini who she became obsessed over and hated simultaneously. Tidbits of their relationship are preserved in documents, but many details are missing, but Bellocchio came across information by chance during production.
"There's a scene where Ida takes out a gun with a single bullet and told her son, 'this is a bullet and it's for your father's heart.' A village woman who knew Ida told us this story, so we added it to the story."
Mezzogiorno said the most challenging thing for her was to not portray Ida in a way that was her fate in history, but to emphasize her contradictions. "Personally, the major difficulty I found was that I shouldn't make the story of this woman as a mad woman - that would've been easy. I had to emphasize her contradictions. She was modern, even feminist, but she sacrificed everything for this man."
Mezzogiorno also said the production wasn't a simple undertaking. "I didn't have a single easy day in the shoot. Every single day was extremely tough and complex."