A gripping historical drama with a story that makes you angry: this is The Bologna Kidnapping, now showing in cinemas. Read here why Marco Bellocchio succeeds where Steven Spielberg failed
A balmy June night in Bologna in 1858: The Jewish Mortara family is having a day like any other when the papal police knock on the door. The religious guardians of the law demand access to the family’s youngest son. They snatch Edgardo from his mother’s arms and disappear into the night. What remains is despair and a loss that weighs heavier with each passing day.
Marco Bellocchio’s new film tells the story of a boy from a Jewish family who is kidnapped and re-educated by the Catholic Church. With the realization of The Bologna Kidnapping – Stolen in the Name of the Pope, the Italian master succeeded in a project that Steven Spielberg had already wanted to film before him. The American failed. His presence is not missed at all in the new film.
Why Bellocchio succeeded where Spielberg failed
About seven years ago, Spielberg wanted to film The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. Oscar-winner Mark Rylance was intended for the role of Pope Pius IX and Oscar Isaac for the older Edgardo. Spielberg had over 2000 young actors audition for the leading role, Deadline reported at the time. But the search came to nothing. The director, who helped child actors to fame in E.T. – The Extraterrestrial or Jurassic Park, did not find the right boy. He dropped the project and turned his attention to West Side Story.
Appearance Marco Bellocchio. The Italian director had been toying with the project for some time, but it was Spielberg’s refusal that cleared the way for him. Initially, Bellocchio (Il Traditore – A Key Witness Against the Cosa Nostra) faced the same problem. How do you find a young actor who can do justice to the traumatic fate of Edgardo Mortara? He explained to Variety in Cannes this year:
‘Before I started filming, I was very worried about this aspect. Kids these days tend to be very fake because of the social media they are exposed to. I knew we had to find a child who had a soul.
This child is Enea Sala. The boy from Bologna makes an impressive film debut in this historical drama.
The film celebrated its premiere in Cannes. Click here for a detailed first impression of The Bologna Abduction.
The Pope as a deranged villain
Enea Sala plays the little Edgardo. Under the pretext that the boy has been secretly baptized and is therefore no longer allowed to be brought up in a Jewish family, he is forcibly adopted by the church, so to speak. From this point on, the film follows three narrative threads: the boy’s religious re-education, the parents’ struggle and the Pope’s perfidious strategy.
Paolo Pierobon plays Pius IX, one of the great movie villains of the year, not a sadistic beast but a man of power whose humanity has been eaten away by paranoia and his own hubris. As his authority crumbles in other areas, the boy is made an example of: If the Pope orders Edgardo to be a Christian, then he will be, no matter what law and conscience say.
In contrast to this is the tender soul of Edgardo, who finds himself in a strange world of crucifixes and Latin texts. The Bologna Abduction tells an infuriating story, but does so with impressive sensitivity. The inner life of the boy, who longs for his family and possibly finds refuge in the image of the suffering Jesus on the cross, is carefully observed. Bellocchio plays with perspectives, switching from surreal dream visions to cold, marble reality.
The thriller’s trump card is its ambiguity. Instead of resting on his anger at the Vatican’s actions, Bellocchio explores how the loss of his parents and the rigid Catholic upbringing go hand in hand psychologically and change the boy’s view of the world. Such a multi-layered insight into a soul tormented and comforted by faith is rarely seen in cinema.