Kris Brunelli.JPG“You hate me because you still love me!” Mussolini shouts at the crowd before him in Vincere , a film by Marco Bellochio released in March. A glamorous and gruesome picture of the man on and off stage, it highlights the contrast between the potent dictator and absolute coward. It’s impossible to disengage yourself from the film, a lightning storm set to mounting and falling thunder, until the last credit has rolled and the last note of the score has echoed.

Politicians are performers—this I was almost directly taught during my semester in Italy. I learned about la bella figura. I also learned that everyone wants Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi out of office, but the charming man—he has been unsuccessfully prosecuted various times and is generally hated by the public but still seems like he could be your friend—is continually re-elected. I couldn’t understand it.

In this film, the weakness of the audience—of the people who fall under the masterful spell of misleaders—becomes understandable; I came to sympathize with Ida Dalsar, the first wife of Mussolini, who, though brutally shamed, was endlessly entranced. Bellocchio reminds that the dizzying power of charisma, of propaganda, of song, of the show is overwhelming. Thinking of Ida and her son who were forced into mental asylums—both continued to almost fanatically worship Mussolini—I can’t pinpoint when sanity becomes insanity, when admiration becomes debilitating, love becomes hate and hate becomes love until one simply can’t tell the difference.

Bio: Kristen Brunelli is an intern at Guernica. Read her last recommendation here.

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