At the age of 83, Italian author Marco Bellocchio has been on a hot streak in recent years, with the success at home and abroad of his 2019 Sicilian Mafia epic, The traitorand his very first TV miniseries, Exterior, nightplaying well all over Europe.
His latest feature film – the 31st in a prolific career that began at the age of 24 with his breakout drama, Fists in the pocket – probably isn’t his best, but that’s not much of a humiliation in a filmography full of memorable work, including other recent movies like Vincere And Good morning, night.
It comes down to
History plays better than story.
Kidnapping (Rapido), a historical play about a Jewish boy who was taken away from his family to live in the Vatican in 1858, may not compare to those titles, but it is still an engaging and somewhat fascinating film, telling a true story that examines historic Italian anti-Semitism and the follies of the Catholic Church.
Filled with the director’s quintessential operatic expressions – cameras float down hallways or balconies as characters race to disaster, emotional crescendos set to a racing score by Fabio Massimo Capogrosso – it can also be a rather stuffy affair, with plenty of dramatic twists and turns. speeches and religious symbolism that ranges from the satirical to the heavy-handed. What seems to fascinate Bellocchio most about the story isn’t really the characters, who come across as stereotypes, whether Jewish or Catholic, but what it says about an era when the highly reactionary Pope Pius IX was beginning to lose power in the face of the newly established Kingdom of Italy.
Caught in the middle of that struggle is the sad story of 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara (played by Enea Sala, then Leonardo Maltese), one of the many children of Solomone “Momola” Mortara (Fausto Russo Alesi) and his wife, Marianna (Barbara Ronchi), a Jewish couple living comfortably among the Bolognese bourgeoisie. That consolation quickly comes to an end when the local priest and inquisitor Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni) has soldiers take little Edgardo away and explains that the child was secretly baptized by the family’s housekeeper. The only way for the couple to get him back is to convert to Catholicism, which they refuse to do.
Written by Bellocchio and Susanna Nicchiarelli, who were inspired by a book about Daniele Scalise’s affair, the script follows Edgardo’s long and traumatizing journey from the hands of his family to those of Pius IX (a very mean Paolo Pierobon), who in the Vatican with other Jewish boys forced to learn the catechism and turn into obedient Catholics. Back in Bologna, Momola goes to great lengths to retrieve his child, speaking to the local and international press, which caricatures the pope as a kidnapping monster, and enlists rabbis and Jewish organizations to support his demands.
“no possum” the pope replies each time, which is actually Latin for “go to hell”, and leads to Edgardo becoming completely indoctrinated in the church as his father watches helplessly and his mother begins to lose her mind. Bellocchio paints these sequences in broad strokes, with Ronchi going a bit overboard as a grieving Jewish mother who will never let go of her infant son, even though her behavior only makes things worse.
There is little subtlety in it Kidnapping, but those may have been the tumultuous times the film is set in – especially after the story has moved into the 1860s, when the Papal States, which were ruled by the Church, were conquered by an Italian army that gave the Pope little ground to rely on. to stand outside the Vatican. Backed into a corner but refusing to relinquish any control, including that over the now all-Catholic Edgardo, Pierobon (Human ability) stars Pope IX as a raging, conservative zealot whose lust for power and fear of Jews – exemplified in a silly circumcision nightmare – drives him to extreme positions.
There are some memorable moments where the film captures the confusion Edgardo felt when he was forced to worship another god, and one he heard over and over again being murdered by Jews like his family. In a rather exaggerated scene, the boy climbs onto a giant statue of Jesus to remove the iron spikes from his arms and feet, hoping to save his new idol. Other scenes wallow in the hypocrisy of a church that actually brainwashes Italian youths, instilling in them piety and at the same time psychologically torturing them. Sequences of prayer within the observant Mortara household and the lofty Vatican are often interspersed, though Bellochio tries to distinguish between the two, contrasting the loving and rather humble family with a powerful institution on the verge of crumbling.
By the time that happens, Edgardo may be forever lost to both his parents and Judaism, and Kidnapping does not end on a very hopeful note, even though Pius IX gets something of a reward. As Bellocchio reveals, the Vatican lost much of its territory after 1870, but it remained powerful enough to maintain dominion over the Italian population, including young men who weren’t even Catholic to begin with. According to an interview with the director, the film’s working title was The conversionand we wonder at the end if Edgardo’s conversion, however forced upon him, became too much to resist.