‘Kidnapped’ KVIFF 2023 review: Bellocchio’s masterful tale of Catholic abduction

The Catholic church abducts a six-year-old Jewish boy in Kidnapped (Rapito), director Marco Belloccio‘s examination of the infamous Mortara case that rocked Italy in the late 1850s and eventually led to the downfall of the Papal States. Kidnapped premiered in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival before screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Despite a somewhat chilly reception at Cannes, Kidnapped is an engrossing and ultimately heartbreaking portrayal of the entire affair that does a terrific job of balancing the historical events with their underlying emotional heft. Only some brief flights of fancy involving Pope Pius IX feel out of place.

In 1858 Bologna, the Jewish Mortara family is stunned by a Catholic delegation that informs them that young son Edgardo (played Enea Sala) is to be taken away from them. According to inquisitor Father Pier Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni), the boy had been baptized, is Catholic in the eyes of God, and must be raised as such. When the boy was baptized, and by whom, Feletti will not reveal.

Edgardo’s parents, father Momolo (Fausto Russo Alesi) and mother Marianna (Barbara Ronchi), are told that he will remain in Bologna; instead, he is taken to Rome. There, Edgardo finds himself amidst a class full of young boys that have been taken by their families under presumably similar circumstances, to be indoctrinated in the ways of Catholicism by no less than Pope Pius IX, played with a devious grin by Paolo Pierobon.

Pius IX, depicted as an Emperor Palpatine-like figure both feared and revered, features in some of Kidnapped‘s more surreal moments. Newspaper illustrations of the Pope stealing Jewish children from their families are brought to life, and later, Pius dreams of being held down by Jewish avengers and circumcised.

As months and years go by, Momolo and Marianna fight in vain to even see their son; Edgardo adopts the Catholic teachings under the promise that he will be sent home if he does well. Lacking any avenue to pursue recourse against the church, the Jewish community draws international attention to the case, and the seeds of revolution are planted.

In 1860, Bologna falls from Papal rule. Some of Kidnapped‘s finest scenes chart the case brought before the courts, as Feletti is arrested and put on trial for his actions. It’s a major event for Italy, but two years have passed since Momolo has seen his son, and this is only a first small step. We see the faint glimmer of hope slowly drain from Momolo’s face during these scenes, and an overwhelming grief settle in.

That’s the most heartbreaking element of Kidnapped: revolutions may take place and regimes may be toppled, but these things take time, and that’s the one thing that can never be reclaimed. The Mortara case changed Italy, but Momolo went to his grave without being reunited with his son.

Kidnapped‘s bleak finale portrays a 19-year-old Edgardo, now played by Leonardo Maltese, who has become fully indoctrinated by the church, and uninterested in being “saved” as Rome is captured by soldiers that include his older brother Riccardo (Samuele Teneggi). It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome, but how much of the six-year-old Edgardo is left? What is the appropriate recourse here?

Belloccio doesn’t have the time to explore these questions here, and Kidnapped might have been better served as a miniseries with more time to explore Edgardo’s later life. Still, this is a fascinating true story vividly brought to life through excellent period detail and heartfelt performances, particularly young Sala as Edgardo and Russo Alesi and Ronchi as his parents.

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