Kidnapped review – Marco Bellocchio’s antisemitism drama is a classic in the making

Kidnapped review – Marco Bellocchio’s antisemitism drama is a classic in the making

Italian director Marco Bellocchio, at the age of 83 – and almost 60 years after he first came to prominence with his 1965 movie Fists in the Pocket – has created a gripping, heartbreaking true-political crime story from the pages of history. It is a full-tilt melodrama with the passionate vehemence of Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens, which lays bare an ugly formative episode of Europe’s Catholic church: an affair of antisemitism and child abuse.

It is based on the true story of Edgardo Mortara, a young Jewish child in Bologna who, in 1858, when he was six, was taken away from his family by the papal authorities. This was done because Edgardo’s doting Catholic nursemaid had claimed that when Edgardo was a baby, and apparently in dire sickness, she had presumed to carry out an emergency baptism, because she feared Edgardo would die and go to limbo. The fanatical Inquisition authorities affected to believe that the Jewish family would therefore “sacrifice” the now-Catholic child, and jumped at the chance to punish the Jewish community and inflate their own missionary self-importance. Edgardo, extensively brainwashed, grew up to be a priest and vehement partisan of the church.

Enea Sala and Leonardo Maltese play Edgardo as a child and then an adult, and Fausto Russi Alesi and Barbara Ronchi play the boy’s stricken, desperate parents. Fabrizio Gifuni is the ice-cold Bologna inquisitor Father Feletti, and Paolo Pierobon is Pope Pius IX who makes Edgardo his pet and turns the case into a trial of strength between the church and anti-papal nationalists, foreign journalists and of course the Jews, expressing his antisemitism partly though his paranoid distaste for his Rothschild creditor.

Bellocchio shows us a brutal convulsion of tyranny, power and bigotry with echoes of the Dreyfus affair in France, and later, horrific events. When the chilling Feletti finally tells a judge that in taking the Jewish child he was merely executing a command from the Vatican, that is a familiar courtroom defence. The kidnapping of young Edgardo is a round-up in miniature, and the pope’s heartlessness a forerunner of Pius XII’s apparent wartime indifference to Nazi atrocities.

I thrilled to this movie: the moment when the pope playfully hides Edgardo in his cloak while he plays hide-and-seek is an extraordinary parallel to when he first hid in his mother’s skirts. My heart was in my mouth when Edgardo is carried off by the brutal authorities. And at the end, when the older, agonised Edgardo comes to see his mother on her deathbed, Bellocchio creates a denouement that made me gasp. This already looks like a classic.