Kidnapped: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Marco Bellocchio
Run Time
2 hours and 14 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.

Ecclesiastes 4:1
Pope Pius IX takes a special interest in Edgardo, the kidnapped son of a Jewish family, on the basis of a story the boy had ben baptized by family srvant. (c) Cohen Media Group

Italian director Marco Bellocchio shows us the danger of anti-Semitism in Europe long before Hitler came to power. Based on true events, it recounts the forceable stripping of a six-year-old boy from his Jewish family in Bologna by a priest of the Inquisition and the boy’s indoctrination (read “brain washing”) so that as he is raised at the Vatican he becomes a priest, rejecting his family’s decade-long efforts to gain him back.

Edgardo Mortara (Enea Sala) is one of eight children of Bolognese Momolo Mortara (Fasuto Russo Alesi) and his wife Marianna (Barbara Ronchi). One night an official accompanied by gendarmes shows up to tell the puzzled father that he is to take custody of the boy for the Catholic Church because a former servant Anna (Aurora Camatti) had baptized the boy during his infancy. This clandestine act makes the child a Roman Catholic—and the law forbids anyone but a Catholic from raising a child of the True Faith. They could keep their son only if everyone agrees to converting to Catholicism. However, their own faith is strong—several times throughout the film they assert their Jewish identity by reciting the Shema, the basic creed of Judaism from Deuteronomy 6.

Naturally, the parents are distraught. The local Holy Inquisitor Felletti (Fabrizio Gifuni) gives them but 24 hours of a stay of execution. Bologna, being in 1858 a Papal State, Felletti as a representative of Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon), is invested in almost limitless power. The struggle of the Mortaras becomes an international affair, as well as an incentive for the nationalistic forces led by King Emmanuel to press on for the unity of the remaining separates states on the Italian peninsula.

The film is a parable of power, of the corrupting nature of absolute power. When Fr. Feletti is questioned by court officials, he tells them, “I would like to make clear that the decisions, the judgments of the Church, are not subject to any other authority of an inferior position. ” Similarly, when representatives of a Jewish newspaper gain an audience with the Pope, and Pius does not like their tone of enquiry, he tells them,  “Lower your voice and kneel down; have you forgotten whose presence you are in?  I could hurt you very badly. I could force you back into your hole. Do you remember when the ghetto gate was closed from dusk to dawn, or have you already forgotten?” (Pius himself had opened up the ghetto at the beginning of his papacy, at that time being regarded as a liberal.

The story unfolds over 16 years!) During this time young Edgardo is instructed, and coddled, in the Catholic faith, with Pope Pius taking a special interest in the lad. The court battle is an exciting one as the parents plead for the return of their stolen child. To the Mortaras’ claim that the baptism never took place, their former servant Anna testifies in court that she baptized the infant when he was gravely ill in order to save his soul. She admits to taking money for telling her story, but insists her story is true.

Unfortunately for the Mortaras, the Catholic indoctrination of Edgardo is so effective, and the adolescent is so content with his favorable treatment at the Vatican that he not only accepts his imposed faith, but becomes a priest himself. His family is granted several visits with him, but they no longer are his primary influencers. As we see when he at last visits his mother on her deathbed, Edgardo has so gone over to the side of the oppressors that he attempts something outrageous. The response of the dying is the highlight of the movie!

The film can be seen as a cautionary parable against any church that gains temporal power. The script is based on David Kertzer 1997 book The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which he wrote during the controversy over the pending beatification of Pius (in 2000). Various Jewish groups and descendants of the Mortaras protested the beatification, but like their ancestors, failed in their attempt. We also learn a little of the history of the unification of Italy, as we see the soldiers of Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel moving in and taking command of Rome in 1870, thus completing the process of unification.

Those who enjoy lavish sets and colorful costumes will be pleased by this film. The actors give heir all to their roles, with the result that most viewers will be saddened by the outcome. No spoiler to write that the “good guys” do not win. History is filled with broken dreams and justice denied, perhaps leading us to wonder about the “moral arc of the universe.”

This review will be in the July issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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