In the film Kidnapped, Marco Bellocchio reconstructs the case of Edgardo Mortara to reflect on the coercive power of the ecclesiastical institution at the decline of the Papal States.
Sitting at a table with the students of a religious college, Pope Pius IX tests their knowledge of Catholic doctrine by asking the meaning of the word “dogma”; it is little Edgardo Mortara, after a few moments of hesitation, who takes the floor to explain that a dogma is a truth of faith to be accepted without asking questions. After all, for Edgardo, the protagonist of the film Kidnapped, religion is a purely dogmatic matter: a system of values and rules descended on him from above, in which he had been immersed since he was seven years old and which, since then, has shaped his knowledge of himself and of the world , imposing on it a single, inexorable perspective. And it doesn’t matter that in a short time the Papal States, the Kingdom that keeps him ‘prisoner’, is finally destined to collapse, after eleven centuries of existence.
Scripted by Mark Bellocchio together with Susanna Nicchiarelli (with the contribution of Edoardo Albinati and Daniela Ceselli) based on the book by Daniele Scalise The Mortara case – The true story of the Jewish child kidnapped by the Pope, Kidnapped returns to explore one of the key themes of the filmography of the Emilian director, now 83 years old: religion as a superstructure to be trusted with blind abandon or to be rejected with iconoclastic fury. That fury that animated the blasphemous teenager at the center of In the name of the father (1972), set exactly one hundred years after the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and the fiercely atheist illustrator who, in The Hour of Religion (2002), refused to contribute to the canonization of his mother. In short, for Bellocchio, the rejection of religion can correspond to a form of struggle against the prevailing conformism or to distance oneself from a collective hypocrisy, which often has little or nothing to do with spirituality.
The silence of God and the voice of the Pope
If so, no Religion timethe sanctification of the mother is related to the opportunism of the Picciafuoco family, in Kidnapped il the casualty of war of the Mortara affair derives precisely from a deformation of faith: the baptism performed on the newborn Edgardo by the young maid Anna Morisi in fear that the child, belonging to a Jewish family, could end up in limbo (and a ‘clandestine’ baptism also took place in Religion time). The Christianity of the people, cloaked in superstition and still punctuated by incomprehensible medieval dogmas, is counterbalanced by that of the high clergy: the inhuman inflexibility with which Pier Gaetano Feletti, the Dominican inquisitor played by Fabrizio Gifuni, fulfills the laws of Papal State, taking Edgardo away from his family and vindicating his actions before the court; and the claim of supremacy of Pio IXthe last Pope King, that the actor Paolo Pierobon transforms into a mask of power by turns mellifluous or menacing, depending on the occasion.
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Incarnation of both spiritual and political authority, Pius IX materializes in the film as an alternative father figure to that of Salomone Mortara of Fausto Russo Alesi, who can maintain contact with his son Edgardo only by bending to the rules of the Church, and for whom the hypothesis of a conversion is overshadowed as the most cowardly of blackmails. But what feeling prevails in Edgardo? Faith in the God of Christians or fidelity to the Pontiff-sovereign? In the only dream scene of Kidnapped, Edgardo witnesses petrified the vision of a Christ who descends from the cross and, without uttering a single word, walks away in the semi-darkness: the caesura that signals the emergence of a vocation or, vice versa, a certification of the “silence of God”? Much more evident is Edgardo’s sense of subjection towards that Pope who, by attracting him under his cloak during a game of hide and seek, exercises a sort of vampirism on his new, helpless pupil.
The State of the Church at the end of the decadence
Whether or not Rapito is – and to what extent – an anti-clerical work can be debated; the fact is that, in this historical drama with nuances and cadences that border on the language of horror, Paolo Pierobon’s Pius IX takes on the contours of one of the most sinister and openly ‘monstrous’ figures of the cinema of Marco Bellocchio. Fiercely clinging to a power now on the verge of crumbling, when most of his dominions rise up against him to join the Kingdom of Italy, the Pope falls prey to epilepsy, a symptom of the decline of an era on the wave of Risorgimento revolutions. It is the historical frame of the final part of Kidnapped: the immersion in the dispute of an Edgardo who has reached the threshold of twenty years, with the face of Leonardo Maltese (who recently appeared in The Lord of the Ants by Gianni Amelio), and started to vow the priesthood. A “soldier of Christ” characterized by such absolute and uncritical obedience as to push him to deny his origins and family affections.
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Therefore on the day of the breach of Porta Pia, while Rome is liberated by Garibaldi’s troops, it is Edgardo’s liberation that fails through the removal of his brother, a soldier in the royal army. Yet, Bellocchio suggests that even such harsh and all-encompassing coercion may not be able to stifle every instinct of rebellion. Edgardo’s adoring impulse towards the Pontiff leads to an (unconscious?) act of violence, immediately punished by using the symbol of martyrdom as an instrument of cruel humiliation (the three crosses traced by the boy on the floor with his tongue). And on the night of July 12, 1881, while a screaming crowd attacked the body of the Pope of It is not usefulfor a handful of seconds Edgardo’s obedience is torn apart by an atavistic rage, which explodes in a cry “Let’s throw him in the Tiber!“: an invective that has the force of a blasphemy, in a parenthesis of lucid madness before returning to a submission from which perhaps there is no escape.