Starting tomorrow at the cinema, Marco Bellocchio bursts into the Cannes Competition 2023 with the story of Edoardo Mortara, a Jewish child kidnapped from the Catholic Church in the 19th century, in the cast Barbara Ronchi, Fabrizio Gifuni and Paolo Pierobon.
The gravitas of the cinema of Mark Bellocchio return to enchant Cannes 2023 with a profound reflection that intertwines history, politics and religion. Drawing on a true news story, Kidnapped, presented in the competition of the festival and from May 25 in cinemas with 01 Distribution, reconstructs the case of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child taken from his family in 1858 and raised within the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX, who refused to return him despite the desperate parental attempts to get him back. Paolo Pierobon, Fabrizio Gifuni, Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi, Leonardo Maltese and little Enea Sala make up the cast of this film which was originally in the plans of Steven Spielberg, as confirmed by Bellocchio himself.
“I stumbled upon this story while reading the book of a conservative Catholic author who defended the choice of the Pope and I immediately felt involved” explains the director. “I was born a Catholic and then I left, but this story moved me deeply. I learned that Spielberg was preparing a film, but he had to give up because he couldn’t find the right child. In my opinion, it is a film that cannot be made in a language other than Italian and Latin, English would have been a mistake”. Marco Bellocchio, who wrote the screenplay for Kidnapped together with Susanna Nicchiarelli, specifies that he did not intervene in an invasive way because “Everything was already there in this story. It is not a film against the Pope or against the Catholic Church, nor is it a defense of it. On the contrary, in this case the dogma has produced extreme violence against this child”.
A complex process, but without trauma
Kidnapped is the result of a careful historical reconstruction in which all the actors are called upon to interpret characters from the past, which required a surplus of attention. The cast, called to learn Latin and Hebrew, worked with great precision on the language. “There was no trauma, but the production was heavy because it was very hot and these poor actors were wearing very heavy costumes” recalls Bellocchio. “We have created a very beautiful and engaging relationship. Without fanaticism, but they have worked in depth”.
The director especially praises the talent of the little one Aeneas Salawhich he interprets Edgardo Mortara when I was a child: “We are used to seeing children who act very well, but Enea’s gaze amazed me, the way he described the situation. Enea does not know the Catholic religion, but there was a gravity in his words. He put something more precious is his humanity, his anguish, his suffering. At times his gaze was an enigma, but when he gets on the boat it is as if he understood that he must defend himself, he must survive and adapt to the situation. Historically, Edgardo is not never been ill-treated, on the contrary. The pope protected him by also assigning him an annual pension for his studies, but his kidnapping indicates a strenuous desire to defend himself at a time when the temporal and spiritual power of the Church was collapsing”.
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Edgardo Mortara’s parents
Playing Edgardo Mortara’s parents are Barbara Ronchi e Fausto Russo Alesi. The Roman actress admits that she was inspired by the photo of Marianna Mortara, “old woman, with her two children next to her, one dressed as a priest. The impression she left on me is that of a woman full of dignity, who throughout her life refused to convert to Catholicism while remaining true to herself”. The co-screenwriter intervenes Susanna Nicchiarelli to specify that “our strength was having the deposition of the trial and the testimony of Marianna Mortara, which allowed us to separate the true from the false, even if the spectator is free to interpret the film as he wishes”.
Fausto Russo Alesi has chiseled to bring out the prudence of his character, a father who tries to protect his son in every way. “The character moves in the complexity of this story, but what Marco asked me from the beginning was to bring out his human side beyond the historical and religious context”explains. “Being deprived of a child makes him disoriented, but he adopts the weapons of prudence and dialogue to extricate himself from a terrible situation, and compromises because for him the child is the most important thing”.
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Enthusiasm for Fabrizio Gifuni’s performance
Directed for the third time by Marco Bellocchio, in Kidnapped Fabrizio Gifuni interpreta Padre Abovethe Dominican inquisitor who orders the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. “I joined the project for the joy and enthusiasm of making another film with Bellocchio” confess. “I had made an immersive journey with him for a totally different character, Aldo Moro, whom you saw here in Cannes last year. This time I’m playing a religious man. Atrocities have been committed in the name of defending this God and terrible wars are still being declared in the name of a superior principle. Religions, from a potentially beautiful experience, are almost condemned by history to become places of intolerance and violence. My character lives on a few but very precise scenes, so I tried to work internally. I wanted to show how deeply this man believes in what he is forced to do”.
Il case of Edgardo Mortara was so sensational as to cause a sensation even in North America, but Marco Bellocchio clarifies that there are similar cases “have often been repeated since the 16th century. The problem was linked to the fact that wealthy Jewish families needed Catholic servitude. Often the children were clandestinely baptized by a Catholic maid. Edgardo’s is the most sensational case because it happens at the moment of the dissolution of the Papal State, which the Pope defends at all costs. There have been other cases, but with the temporal defeat of the Church, the Pope’s power has greatly diminished”.