Kidnapped (2023)

April 22nd, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Marco Bellocchio | Cast: Enea Sala, Leonardo Maltese, Paolo Pierobon, Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi | Italy, Drama 125′

Now in his eighties, Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio is still knocking them out and shows no intention of slowing down: he has just completed a script for the upcoming film The Life Apart. His latest outing, a classically styled melodrama, tells the little known story of the kidnapping of a Jewish boy seized from his family home in Bologna and taken to live in the Vatican in 1858. This story exposes another ugly episode of the history of the Catholic Church, this time concerning coercive conversion.

Kidnapped is a hardcore arthouse affair full of impassioned speeches, religious symbolism and magnificent set pieces with vehement style of 16th or 17th century European art in the style of Caravaggio or Valasquez, ramped up by a thundering score from Esterno Notte composer Fabio Massimo. Cast-wise it boasts a tour de force from Italian actor Paolo Pierobon as a malevolent Pope Pius IX who orders a series of forced religious conversions as his power diminishes in the wake of the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy in a climate of vicious antisemitism.

Apart from the Pope, a series of rather cardboard characters are there to serve the narrative in a film whose primary focus is the outright humiliation of a Jewish family whose little boy, 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara (played by Enea Sala, then Leonardo Maltese), is seen living happily with his wealthy parents Solomone “Momola” Mortara (Fausto Russo Alesi) and Marianna (Barbara Ronchi).

One night Edgardo is taken away from his family’s palatial home on the premise of his having been secretly baptised by the family maid. The only way for the couple to get their child back is to convert to Catholicism, which is naturally a non-starter to their own religious beliefs.

Inspired by a Daniele Scalise’s book ‘Il Caso Mortara’, Bellocchio and his co-writer Susanna Nicchiarelli chronicle Edgardo’s turbulent time in the Vatican where he undergoes intense religious instruction along with other Jewish boys. Meanwhile, back in Bologna, Momola works with the international press to raise the profile of his son’s plight through a vigorous campaign demonising the pontiff. Despite best efforts on their part, the boy reaches adulthood as an indentured servant to the church and somehow develops a year erotic zeal for Pius. In one scene his adulation causes him to knock the pontiff down and leads to him being forced to draw three signs of the cross with his tongue on the floor, as a punishment. Another sees Edgardo freeing a statue of Christ, who then comes down from the cross and walks calmly away.

Fire and brimstone and much ringing of hands follows with Ronchi channelling a typical Jewish mother – and you feel for her and her cute offspring. Rapito certainly reflects a blood-soaked era which culminated in the Papal States – and Pius himself – been eventually vanquished by the Italian army in 1870. Needless to say the Catholic Church fails to redeem itself in the film’s ending, and still has a lot to answer for even to this day, in this brutal portrait of tyranny and religious bigotry. MT


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