Even decades after the fall of the fascist regimes in Europe, the ghosts of some dictators still haunt their birthplaces. In the Italian town of Predappio, for example, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) is still omnipresent: whether as a bust in souvenir shops or in the family tomb in the city cemetery or in photos at right-wing marches.
The Arte documentary "The Mayor, Mussolini and the Museum" (April 19, 10:10 p.m.) accompanies local politician Giorgio Frassineti. He wants to create a public place where fascism and Mussolini's reign from 1922 to 1943 can be critically examined.
Former mayor Predappios has been fighting for many years to turn the party's former house, the "Casa del fascio e dell'ospitalità", into Italy's first fascism documentation center. In an entertaining way, with wonderfully astute musical accompaniment and a pinch of irony, the film shows how important and difficult it is to remember symbolic places.
It doesn't want to work out with the museum
"In Predappio, you should take a critical look at history and not put on puppet shows," says Frassineti in the documentary. Actually, a guy as charismatic as he should have it pretty easy with his plans. When the film was shot in 2019, he had been mayor of the city of 6,000 for ten years. The people on the street greet him warmly.
And yet things just don't want to work out with the museum. The Casa del Fascio stands empty, while Predappio is full of Mussolini supporters three times a year. They make a pilgrimage to the little town between Bologna and the Mediterranean, especially on dates such as the anniversaries of his birth and death and the anniversary of the fascist takeover of power.
"Duce! Duce!" resounds through the streets, "Fuhrer" in Italian. The director Piergiorgio Curzi impressively keeps current shots alongside flashbacks to the Mussolini years. It seems as if the past is repeating itself in Predappio.
Pro and con
The criticism of Frassineti's proposal: a fascism museum would play into the hands of nostalgics and divide society. In order to collect counter-arguments, he visits other European cities that are further along in questions relating to the culture of remembrance. In Braunau am Inn, where Adolf Hitler was born, he talks to the political scientist Andreas Maislinger. He is committed to a memorial project in the building. "We all know that denying history doesn't make sense," emphasizes Maislinger. The former NSDAP party headquarters in Munich is also on Frassineti's itinerary. He asks director Mirjam Zadoff what the documentation center that has been established there means for the city.
Despite all his zeal, Frassineti does not forget the "Dolce Vita". The camera shows him with his shirt flapping and his stomach bare, on a pedal boat or on the beach with his friends, passionately annoyed by his critics. "We Italians have acquitted ourselves. We invented fascism and are now acting as if it doesn't concern us anymore," Frassineti states at the end of the documentary. "The Mayor, Mussolini and the Museum" states that the ghosts of the past cannot be driven away in this way.