In an Italy that has never made a clear break with its fascist past, the specter of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) still looms large. We find its trace in the buildings with rationalist architecture which still stand in Italian cities. We follow it along streets named to the glory of its colonial conquests, but also on the sites of its new towns, emerging from the lands reconquered from the marshes of Lazio or Sardinia.

However, it is above all through the still tenacious myth according to which this regime also “did good things” that its legacy continues to irrigate Italian society, even though a political family descended from fascism came to power in Rome.

In his documentary Is Mussolini Still Alive?, filmed before the President of the Council Giorgia Meloni took office in October 2022, journalist Pietro Suber takes this still widely shared preconceived idea head on to dismantle its roots. It thus shows that, from yesterday’s propaganda to today’s selective memory, fascism, this political object with changing contours and volatile incarnations, has never been anything other than a fallacious story.

A fascist paradise

The fascist narrative thus begins with Benito Mussolini’s construction of a narrative of himself: that of a sporting man, exposing his body to sea bathing as well as to winter sports, of a chef working all night as The permanently lit window of his office was to attest to this, of a deified speaker making excessive use, in front of the masses, of theatrical gestures and facial expressions giving him the air of a dictator in an operetta.

The mechanics of the great fascist narrative then articulates to its main character grandiose achievements still credited to him today in Italian opinion. Pietro Suber thus discusses at length the history of the reclamation of new agricultural land in marshy areas. He recalls that this enterprise launched with grandiloquence ultimately achieved only limited results, without making it possible to eradicate the scourge of malaria from which the populations of settlers living in what was to become a fascist paradise would suffer.

The same is true of the received idea according to which the dictatorship implemented the first social policies in Italian history, in reality predating the First World War. The journalist’s effort to demystify also focuses on the social housing program implemented by the regime, which was in reality an instrument serving the movement of poor populations with anti-fascist tendencies from city centers towards housing. poor quality located on the outskirts.

The film is based on the interventions of the very popular historian Alessandro Barbero, the writer specializing in the memory of the Second World War Carlo Greppi and the historian Francesco Filippi, author of Are There Good Dictators? Mussolini, historical amnesia (Vuibert, 2020). It also gives voice to the last witnesses of the regime, self-proclaimed fascists, children of settlers from the Pontine marshes or Jewish victims of fascism. The journalist also insists on the only aspect of the regime that the right in power agrees to condemn: its racist dimension.

Nebulous image

The entire film is thus shot through with the echo of the racial laws targeting Italian Jews, promulgated in 1938, then their deportation by Nazi Germany, an ally of the Republic of Salo, the ultimate incarnation of fascism. Interspersed with interviews with those currently nostalgic for fascism, the documentary recalls that the dictator’s mausoleum, installed in his native town of Predappio (Emilia-Romagna), is the third most visited funerary site in the country.

Pietro Suber warns of an Italy still weighed down by its fascist past and by the stories that surround it, a nebulous and sometimes positive image. The principle defended by the journalist would be that knowledge of historical reality is an essential instrument to preserve the country from the return of authoritarian power.

However, mirroring the latent valorization of fascism that he denounces, the official anti-fascism which had served as the basis of Italian republican political culture is fading. Giorgia Meloni, whose party displays on its logo the tricolor flame representing the burning torch placed on the tomb of Benito Mussolini, refuses to claim responsibility for it.