By Caryn James | James on Screens April 16, 2014 at 11:06AM
When Marco Bellocchio's startling first film -- the dark, explosive family drama Fists in the Pocket -- appeared in 1965, he arrived with a fresh, audacious voice and eye. Amazingly, he remains a vibrant filmmaker all these decades later. Now 74, he may be one of the living Italian masters, but he continues to create work that lives most vividly at the place where family meets politics, where private emotions challenge institutions including -- and especially -- the church and the state.
Eighteen of Bellocchio's films, including his brand-new Dormant Beauty, will be included in a series at the Museum of Modern Art from April 16 through May 7th. Bellocchio himself will introduce the opening night film, The Wedding Director (2006) as well as Dormant Beauty on the 17th (it opens in New York on June 6th). Isabelle Huppert stars in a story inspired by a real-life legal battle over the fate of a woman who has been in a coma for 17 years.
One other highlight: his 2009 film Vincere, (translated as Win), a visual and emotional swirl of history about Mussolini's mistress. Giovanna Mezzogiorno is extraordinary is Ida Dalser, besotted with the young, ambitious journalist Mussolini, even after he abandons her and their young son. As he rises to power, Ida becomes obsessed. In this sympathetic portrait she is a woman who clings to the truth -- she is the mother of his son -- even while her erratic behavior leads the world to treat her as a lunatic.
In almost operatic style, the beautifully-photographed film captures the dreams and illusions of the period: a kiss in a dark alley in Milan, the brightness of the open countryside, black-and-white news footage of the theatrical dictator. Yet it is Mezzogiorno's emotional fire that defines the film; she is at once powerfully individual and a metaphor for a country seduced and abandoned by a tyrant. As in so many Bellocchio works, the personal and political meet, and bring the film fiercely to life.
A complete schedule for the series is at moma.org