Spate of films look at Mussolini era

ROME — More than 60 years after Benito Mussolini’s death, the fascist-era’s dark days are turning into a hot cinematic commodity in Italy, where helmers are mining the country’s two decades suffered under the now-despised dictator for stories with fresh angles.

Last week, Marco Bellocchio confirmed he is prepping a feature that will tackle the long-suppressed tale of Mussolini’s illegitimate son, also named Benito, who died at age 27 in a mental institution where he had been relegated by fascist militiamen eager to erase proof of his existence. Though known to historians, this is a skeleton that had been buried inside the country’s collective closet.

“It’s an Italian tragedy; a largely unknown story, which I think will cause lots of discussion,” says Bellocchio.

The veteran auteur fared well with local auds in 2003 with his political thriller “Good Morning, Night” about a more recent scar in Italy’s national psyche, the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by Red Brigades terrorists.

Meanwhile, Marco Tullio Giordana, best known Stateside for his absorbing 1968-generation epic “Best of Youth” next month will start shooting “Crazy Blood,” a biopic about fascist-era thesping couple Osvaldo Valenti and Luisa Ferida, both shot dead in 1945, just as WWII ended, by partisans angered over their fascist connections.

Monica Bellucci will play the Mussolini-era diva, star of Alessandro Blasetti’s 1940 hit epic “The Iron Crown.”

Giordana’s “Blood,” to be made for both theatrical and TV, is being financed in part by Euro subsidy entity Eurimages and co-produced by Angelo Barbagallo with pubcaster RAI’s RAI Cinema unit, which is also backing the Bellocchio pic.

“Just like in the rest of Europe, Italian filmmakers are now taking a more detached, perhaps less hostile, look at dark periods in their recent history, which were previously, more or less subconsciously, being avoided,” says Giancarlo Leone, RAI’s deputy director general.

He cites Teutonic Hitler biopic “The Downfall” and recent comedy “Mein Fuhrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler” as other recent Euro revisitations.

In what is likely to be the touchiest of its fascist-era projects, RAI has also announced a TV drama project based on best-seller “Il sangue dei vinti” (The Blood of the Losers), an account by l’Espresso journo Gianpaolo Pansa of atrocities perpetrated by anti-fascist partisans during, and right after, Italy’s civil war.

On the lighter side, a sci-fi spoof titled “Fascists on Mars” by comic actor-helmer Corrado Guzzanti was a minor sleeper hit last fall, produced and released by Domenico Procacci’s Fandango. But rather than revisiting the dictator’s days, this surreal re-creation of Mussolini-era newsreels depicting an imaginary 1939 mission to Mars to turn the Red Planet fascist black was actually a means to satirize Silvio Berlusconi and the present-day media mogul-cum-politico’s anachronistic anti-communism.

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