Kidnapped (2023) Cannes Film Festival 2023

May 24th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

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

At 83 years-old, Italian auteur Marco Bellocchio is still knocking them out. His latest, a classically styled melodrama, tells the little known story of the kidnapping of a Jewish boy taken away from his family in Bologna to live in the Vatican in 1858, once again exposing an ugly episode of the history of the Catholic Church.

Kidnapped is a hardcore arthouse affair full of impassioned speeches, religious symbolism and magnificent set pieces. It also 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.

A series of mostly 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 upmarket 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 him back is to convert to Catholicism, which is naturally a non-starter.

Inspired by a work from Daniele Scalise, 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, who is even circumcised against his wishes in one rather weird scene, where Jewish elders break into his inner sanctum. 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. If this was a painting Valesquez, Goya or even Caravaggio would do it proud. But Rapito certainly reflects a blood-soaked era when the Papal States – and Pius himself – were 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 holds sway over its believers to this day. MT


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