May 20, 2024

Kidnapped: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara 2024 Movie Review

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Kidnapped: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara 2024 Movie Review

As with “The Traitor”, another broad-brush panorama of a changing world, Marco Bellocchio’s political sympathies are not hidden, but the dilemmas and perplexities facing his characters can often be oversimplified. Here in “Kidnapped”, he recounts a shameful episode in the waning days of Papal secular power prior to the unification of the Italian state, in which a 6-year-old Jewish boy is ordered by the authorities (they of the “Holy Office” of Inquisition infamy) to be yanked from the arms of his parents because of an alleged furtive and illicit baptism performed when his was an infant, making him a Christian who, for the protection of his immortal soul, could no longer be raised in a Jewish family. He is taken to Rome, to be raised in an institution for converted boys destined for the priesthood, while his case becomes an international scandal, seized upon by anti-clerical circles throughout Europe and beyond, to the immense irritation of the Pope and the Curia.

The notion of dogma is central to Bellocchio’s account (he co-wrote the screenplay), with those of both the Church and of the Jewish community leaving the boy, Edgardo, yanked between the two, emotionally crippled. (To be sure we get the point, Edgardo innocently recites a rote definition of the word during a visit by the Pope.) And the annexation of the Papal States by the anti-clerical Kingdom of Italy, which should have brushed aside religious impediments to the by-then young adult Edgardo’s resumption of a relationship with his family, also fails the cause of secularization and human agency through the intercession of the dead hand of yet another dogma, this one of the secular-legal kind. Any chances of putting aside impediments to loving human relationships are thus dashed.

The narration is uneven and at times a bit paint-by-numbers, but the screenplay, while over-the-top is some places, elsewhere shows self-restraint, for example in not seeking to caricature Edgardo’s treatment at the hands of the Church as brutal (beyond, of course, the brutality of the kidnapping itself and of the ongoing separation from his family). While clearly putting institutional self-interest first, the priests and nuns are shown as acting with kindness and even a form of love for the boys in their care. Despite moments of rebellion, Edgardo is shown as being irrevocably absorbed into their world, even as change swirls all around them. The psychological evolution here might have been treated with greater precision and subtlety, but Bellocchio in the end makes his point, which I take to be that there is no going back on the forces that shape us, however perverse.

Visually, the film is a treat. Bellocchio, the well-named “beautiful eye”, treats us to color-saturated, painterly sequences – some of the interior shots seem downright, if self-consciously, Vermeerish. And Bellocchio has always a gift for casting – “Kidnapped” may in the end be worth watching just for the tremendous performance of Paolo Pierobon as Pius IX, the last Pope to reign over the Papal States, whose bone-headed, unflinching self-certitude (it was he who formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility even as his political actions demonstrated its opposite) served as an accelerant of his ultimate downfall. (Pierobon’s physical resemblance, in different ways, to both the late John-Paul II and Benedict XVI is surely not accidental.) So many other, smaller roles, are ideally taken and vividly portrayed. Like “The Traitor”, this is very much an ensemble performance, and all the finer for it.

“Kidnapped” is an honorable effort to grapple with a complex subject, and even if it settles in the end for some facile exposition, it is well worth seeing. At a time when so many films are so narrowly focused, often hermetically so, on issues of self-realization and personal relationships, it’s nice to see a project with some ambition and scope, even one that, as here, doesn’t completely meet its promise.

Kidnapped: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara 2024 Movie Review