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The kidnapping in question happens quickly enough. It’s 1858 and Momolo and Marianna Mortara (Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi) are raising their family of eight children in the Jewish faith in Bologna, Italy. One night they are visited by Bologna officers who inform her that there is evidence their son Eduardo has been baptized (without their knowledge, mind you) and will be taken into custody by the Catholic Church by Papal law. Momolo attempts to convince the local cardinal that there has been a mistake, but within 24 hours Eduardo and Mortara’s lives are changed forever as their son is stolen away from them.
Portrayed as a young boy by an Enea Sala (quite impressive), Eduardo is shipped off to Rome where he’s kept in a private dormitory far from public view. A fellow student tells him that if he does what the priests say and effectively keeps his head down he’ll be able to go home in a few weeks or maybe even a year. It’s obviously conjecture by Bellocchio and co-screenwriter Susanna Nicchiarelli but foreshadows that Eduardo won’t be going home anytime soon.
As Jewish groups across the world react in outrage to the news of Eduardo’s abduction (even in America!), Pope Pius played with over-the-top glee by Paolo Pierobon (stealing every scene he’s in), is both angered and amused by the political cartoons depicting him as a monster. And, for a moment, we see Bellocchio inject a touch of surreal artistry into the proceedings as the newspaper images animate to life in Pius’ hands. During this portion of the film, Bellocchio also ventures into multiple dream sequences including one where Pius believes Jewish people have entered his bedroom and are going to circumcise him (it plays much more comically than the director likely intended). The rest of the film is lacking this creativity, however. It soon ventures into unexpected and conventionally told tangents.
As “Kidnapped” progresses it becomes less about Eduardo’s story than about the political upheaval at the time. Pius is known for losing control over the papal states (including Bologna). Modern-day historians recognize that anger over Eduardo’s capture played a small part in sparking unification rebellions across the Italian peninsula. The scope of the story is vast and at one point we are witness to the fall of Pius-controlled Rome to rebel Kingdom of Italy forces. The new Bologna government also puts the priest who approved Eduardo’s capture on trial which answers some much-needed questions such as who reported his “baptism” to the church. What it doesn’t allow is Bellocchio to explore how Eduardo became sucked into Catholic brainwashing as his stay in Papal custody stretches from months into years.
Quickly fading into the background is the Jewish aspect of the story. Momolo Mortara ventures to Rome where Jews of the city, fighting for their own political freedoms, chastise him for letting the story get wild in the global press. In one of the film’s more disturbing scenes, they are chastised and threatened by Pius eventually kissing his feet in submission. But a story that begins from a Jewish perspective gets overwhelmed by Bellocchio including one Catholic ceremony after another. This is much more of an Italian tale than a Jewish one.
The fact Eduardo died in 1940, just a year after Bellocchio was born is a reminder that this iteration of the Catholic Church was not that long ago. And while the filmmaker has a better grasp on conveying well-staged melodrama than many of his contemporaries half his age (Fabio Massimo Capogrosso’s score and Francesco Di Giacomo‘s cinematography assist), the heart of the story somehow still gets lost. Even a final scene that should capture the tragedy of this tale falls surprisingly flat. And that is likely because the narrative’s focus simply veers too far away from Eduardo’s life. But as a history lesson, “Kidnapped” is still another stark reminder of the evils perpetrated by the Catholic Church and their crimes perpetrated against the Jewish faith. And there’s certainly something valuable in that. [C+]
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