Benito: The Rise and Fall of Mussolini (1993)

 

 

 

Director:  Gian Luigi Calderone.

Starring:  Antonio Banderas, Claudia Koll, Meme Perlini, Susanne Lothar, Toni Bertorelli, Valentina Lainati, Ivano Marescotti. 

Mussolini in his early opportunistic career as a socialist

 

 

Part I.

October 1901.  Mussolini arrives on a train coming into Gualtieri station.  His father Alessandro is a great socialist in his town of Forli.  Mussolini has come to teach school in Gualitieri.  He meets Julia, the daughter of the mayor.  She is already married with a son, but this does not stop Mussolini from pursuing her.  He seduces her and has sex with her.  Her husband finds out and kicks Julia out of his house.  The mayor is furious with his daughter and Mussolini, but Mussolini does not really seem to care.  He simply returns to his father's house.  He substitute teaches for his sick mother.  There he raps the hands of the young student Giudi Rachelle.

Lausanne, summer 1902.  Mussolini works in a quarry.  He hates the job and the supervisor calls him the equivalent of "missie".  He can't keep his mouth shut and leaves his job.  He has to steal food from the plates of wealthy diners to survive.  He finally goes to speak with the local union organizer, Serrati, who promises to help him.  Mussolini also meets the anarchist Bertoni. 

Mussolini speaks against the priests in a public debate in Geneva.  He is so histrionic in his debate that Angelika Balabanoff, a highly positioned member of the Socialist Party, bursts into hysterical laughter.  Mussolini meets her later.  She is very critical of the young man.  That, however, does not discourage Mussolini.  He later kisses her.  She bites and cuts his lip to stop his forwardness. 

Mussolini gets a job at a construction site in Geneva.  Of course, he hates this job too as he feels he is wasting his talent.  He sees the wealthy red-headed Russian Eleonora with her friends and he very brazenly approaches her.  Her friends are scandalized, but Eleonora likes the look of the handsome young man and she says that she had invited him to lunch.  She befriends him and they have sex. 

Angelika offers to help Mussolini make some money by translating a book into German.  Mussolini has sex with her. 

At Mussolini's old construction job site a young boy falls off the scaffolding to his death.  Mussolini calls for a general strike.  Mussolini soon finds himself in jail because he had falsified his passport to get into Geneva.  Angelika uses her considerable political contacts to get Mussolini freed.  He was to be deported back to Italy.  Mussolini cannot stay in Geneva but he can stay elsewhere in Switzerland. 

Trento in the Austrian-Hungarian empire.  Five years later.  Mussolini is the editor of the Worker's Future.  Angelika visits him and scolds him for being trapped in a "cage of individualism" and for only wanting to be applauded and to be number one. But she later gets him released.

Back in his home town, Mussolini meets the former student Giudi Rachelle who is now 18 years old and scrubs floors.  She tells the fast-moving Mussolini that she cannot date him unless they are engaged and so Mussolini proposes.  Mussolini works his way up to be the Secretary of the Socialist Party of Forli.   

Mussolini gets himself into a huge battle with the Republicans.  The socialists have been cooperating with the Republicans, but Mussolini thinks this is a mistake.  He feels that the Republicans (in Forli under the leadership of Nenni) are too willing to compromise with the government.  They are just not radical enough for Mussolini. 

At the 11th Convention of the Socialist Party of Italy in Milan, Mussolini sees Angelika again.  She tells him that she will introduce him to the revolutionary faction of the party.  It is at this time that Angelika learns that Mussolini is married and has a young daughter.  She is upset and mad at Mussolini.  Mussolini wants to publish a call for armed struggle, but he cannot get consent to do so.  The young man from Forli is beginning to be seen as a real trouble-maker.   The supposedly radical faction wants to rein him in a bit.  They get leader Mazzonni to break publicly with Mussolini as a rabble-rouser.  From the balcony at the conference Mussolini shouts insults at Mazzonni for betraying him.  Mussolini insists he get a chance to speak and it is granted.  He shouts that the socialist leadership is just reformist and is holding back the revolution.  He urges the membership to end the relationship with the reformists.  It is, however, to no avail.  The crowd shouts down the fire-brand Mussolini. 

Mussolini returns to Forli.  His father is dying.  Nenni shows up at the funeral and the enraged Mussolini tells the reformist that this is only the beginning of the real war.  Mussolini urges the party in Forli to break with the main party.  Under Mussolini the socialists of Forli set fired to the threshing machines of the Republicans.  Nenni retaliates by breaking with the socialist Chamber of Labor to start their own Chamber of Labor.  Soon the Republican Chamber of Labor becomes the more influential of the two organizations. 

Rachelle comes home late and Mussolini explodes at her.  She tells her husband that she is afraid of him and her daughter is too. 

Losing ground, Mussolini launches a physical attack on the Republicans.  One of the Republicans is killed in the mayhem.  The Republicans retaliate by trying to assassinate Mussolini.  Riding in a carriage with Angelika, Mussolini is warned of the assassination attempt just in the knick of time and he and Angelika escape.  Angelika was sent to evaluate the situation in Forli.  She tells Mussolini that she will recommend that the party abolish the Forli Federation. 

Mussolini returns home late at night stinking drunk and starts breaking up his own home.  His mother-in-law has to rush to the neighbors to get help in subduing the crazed Mussolini.  They have to tie him to the bed. 

It's War!!  General Cagni will land in Tripoli, Libya.  The whole situation is now changed.  Mussolini and Nenni come together in agreement to say no to the war.  Mussolini soon becomes a popular anti-war hero.  He gets thrown into jail.  But his socialist friends are able to get him out.  Since he is now so popular, they want Mussolini to speak at Reggamilio to present the position of the revolutionary wing of the party.

Mussolini obtains the ousting of the main reformist leader of the party.  And then he gets control of the main voice of the party, L'Avanti.   This control in turn gave him control of the Socialist Party of Italy. 

Rachelle has heard gossip about Angelika, but she brushes it aside.  Her husband leaves for Milan and L'Avanti.

 

Part II.

The Battle of the Marne, World War I.  Italy remains neutral.  Pressure, however,  is mounting for Italy to join the Triple Alliance of France, Britain and Russia.  The government has its supporters look for a way to turn newspapers over to the pro-war side.   They especially want a socialist newspaper to support Italy's entry into the war.  Filippo Naldi approaches Massimo Rocca who works with Mussolini at L'Avanti to get him to try to convince Mussolini to support war.  Rocca wants war because he believes that only a disastrous war will bring the bourgeoisie to its knees.  

Mussolini meets Mrs. Sarfatti who is the art critic for L'Avanti.   The editor takes a liking to the woman.  Angelika has dinner with Mussolin and Rachele at their home.  She is sad that the Socialist International no longer exists.  The proletariat of the various warring countries have lined up with their perspective nations. 

Mussolini visits Forli.  He sees his old ally Primo only to find that he has enlisted and leaves for France and the war the next week. 

Naldi speaks with Mussolini directly to try to influence him.  But Mussolini is a stubborn man.  So Rocca writes a very critical piece about the neutrality stance of Mussolini calling him "a man of straw".  At L'Avanti everyone wants Mussolini to fire off a reply, but their editor appears reluctant. When Mussolini does write an editorial reply, he takes a pro-war response.  He says that since all the proletariats are opting to support their countries in World War I, the Socialist Party had to take this into account.  The Socialist Party does not want to lose the talented man, but Mussolini won't compromise and gets himself thrown out of the Socialist Party.  He has to leave L'Avanti.

Naldi tells Mussolini that he needs a newspaper of his own.  This is still another cynical attempt to influence Mussolini.  Mussolini decides to go with Naldi.  Naldi says that he has to get a group of investors for the pro-war Socialist newspaper.  But later Naldi tells Mussolini that the deal fell through.  But the skeptical Mussolini decides to approach the French investor Vautrot himself.  Vautrot is excited by the idea of starting a pro-war Socialist newspaper in Italy.  Mussolini is elated that the paper will be all his to do as he wants.  He writes an article that is both pro-war and critical of the government, a stand that greatly disappoints Naldi.

May 24, 1915.  Italy joins the war on the side of the Triple Alliance.  Mussolini begins his struggle that will eventually lead to his dictatorship over Italy.  Angelika becomes his implacable enemy and helps found the Social Democratic Party. 

 

Pretty good movie.  But the title is very misleading.  The film only deals with the rise of Mussolini to the point where he has control of his own Socialist newspaper and can write whatever he wants.  Actually, Mussolini continues to rise until he becomes dictator of Italy.  The history of Mussolini's life as a socialist is not really all that interesting.  And it is hardly important at all compared to Mussolini's actions as a fascist.  A lot of the movie time is spent in rather dull disputes whether or not the revolution is at hand.  Hardly the subject matter that can match that of the rise of fascism, the loss of freedom of speech as well as other freedoms, war in Ethiopia, alliance with Hitler, World War II, the Allied invasion of Italy and Mussolini's death.  And because the movie only deals with Mussolini as a socialist, it makes the audience feel somewhat sympathetic to the man.  And a dirty, rotten fascist is not someone we should be feeling good about.  I would chose a movie about Mussolini other than this one.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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