Reviewed by: Levan Tskhovrebadze

"This cinematic exploration, a manifestation of Christian bigotry, speculates with cinematic icons and religious imagery, laying bare the power-hungry clergy."

The maverick auteur of the 1960s Italian cinematic stage, Marco Bellocchio, remains subversive even in his later years, as evidenced by his directorial venture Kidnapped (2023). This period piece, which was in competition at Cannes, delves into the harrowing abduction of six-year-old Jewish child Edgardo Mortara by the Catholic Church in 1858. While Bellocchio's contextual and visual palette is eclectic, his oeuvre is primarily recognised for its sardonic critique and razor-sharp mockery of hegemony, and Kidnapped is no exception. Here, he boldly pits the dominant religious institution against a minority family, unravelling historical facts and transforming them into a personal experience.

The revelation of Edgardo's secret baptism, performed a few months after his birth by the well-meaning but dim-witted nursemaid Anna (Aurora Camatti), becomes known to papal authorities six years later. They forcibly seize the child from his family, consigning him to Pope Pius IX's religious school. Enea Sala and Leonardo Maltese's portrayal of young and adult Edgardo is extraordinary, with Sala capturing the vulnerability of a six-year-old secretly praying in Hebrew, while Maltese depicts a brainwashed Catholic priest.

This cinematic exploration, a manifestation of Christian bigotry, speculates with cinematic icons and religious imagery, laying bare the power-hungry clergy. The church justifies the abduction with ecclesiastical cannons, citing Edgardo's baptism as irrevocable. However, beneath the surface lies a tangible undercurrent of ferocious antisemitism, manifested in the ruthless faces of tyrannical priests, from Pope Pius (Paolo Pierobon) to the Bologna inquisitor Father Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni). Bellocchio paints the Vatican as a Third Reich operating with pompous ethics and morbid perfectionism. The portrayal of the children's sleeping quarters as a concentration camp further accentuates this unsettling comparison.

As the Mortara family learns of the church's intent to take Edgardo, the father, Momolo Mortara (Fausto Russi Alesi), ponders a desperate act, creating one of the most rapturously edgy episodes of Kidnapped. The tension is palpable as Momolo, torn between fear and determination, attempts throwing his son from the window to save him. The actual kidnapping unfolds with a sense of dread, underscored by dramatic music. The scene works as stargate sequence scene from Kubrcik's 2001, drawing a parallel between David Bowman's journey through time and the six-year-old Mortara's forced abduction.

Barbara Ronchi embodies Edgardo's mother, and as her desperation intensifies, her appearance increasingly evokes Mother Mary. Kidnapped thus morphs into a hagiography, exploring the tyranny not of physical kidnapping but of mental conversion. Edgardo may reside under the Pope's supervision for a decade, yet as long as he continues reciting the Shema every night, the kidnapping remains inconsequential. This is the central concern that Bellocchio invites his audience to contemplate — the insidious mechanics of power, a force capable of orchestrating a profound metamorphosis within an individual.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2023
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In 1858, a six-year-old Jewish boy is forcibly seized from his family by the Catholic church.

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Writer: Marco Bellocchio, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Edoardo Albinati

Starring: Enea Sala, Leonardo Maltese, Paolo Pierobon, Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi, Filippo Timi

Year: 2023

Runtime: 125 minutes

Country: Italy, France, Germany

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