KIDNAPPED. Settling Sins in Old Style [REVIEW]
The creator of outstanding “Fists in the Pockets” still maintains his rebellious character and this time points fingers at the events and sins of the Church in the second half of the 19th century. In “Kidnapped” Bellocchio delivers several powerful scenes, and the growing frustration, disbelief, and engagement in the story overshadow the difficulties with a somewhat archaic narration and occasional tonal exaggeration. Visually and technically, it is a production at a very high level, and emotionally, it cannot be ignored.
Bellocchio, in his latest film, presents himself as a meticulous judge who wants to show us in the most accurate way the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara from his family, an act rooted in cruel church law. The forceful removal of the six-year-old resulted from the secret baptism of the child by his caregiver, leading to his upbringing in the Catholic faith. The creator focuses strongly on the subsequent trial, indoctrination, alienation from close relationships, and native faith. This evokes clear emotional opposition because, at many points, Bellocchio does not hold back from the audience. The entire story is based on well-documented historical events, recorded accounts, and evidence, which can be read, for example, in the book “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” by David I. Kertzer. These are actual events related to the Risorgimento, the moment of Italy’s unification and the elimination of the Papal States. In my opinion, the drama of the boy and his family is best portrayed. The depiction of the Church as a mafia sometimes appears unintentionally grotesque and automatically raises some doubts. However, the family drama resonates very precisely and strongly. Once again in Bellocchio’s career, the focus is on the image of the oppressiveness of power, hitting the issue of unquestioning acceptance of dogma. The story of Edgardo Mortara becomes one of the causes and reasons for the split and political revolution in Italy. There are many differences between the understanding of church law then and now, but certain phenomena are surprisingly close to what can be observed, for example, in the context of the scandal related to pedophilia among priests.
Bellocchio strives to meticulously present all historical facts, although it must be noted that his narrative is far from unambiguous. The famous Italian director decisively settles scores with the pathological system of church power, treatment of Jews, and impunity of actions. In this respect, he turns towards morality, depriving his film of shades of gray, any space for interpretation for the viewer. This is not a major flaw, just an artistic decision, but the result may be polarization in the perception of the film itself, pointing out its inaccuracies, diverging from historical truths. It won’t convince those who are unconvinced. In this perspective, it must be emphasized that Bellocchio portrays Edgardo Mortara solely as a victim of manipulation and indoctrination. His later actions as a globally known evangelist are accompanied by only a brief comment. I believe that for narrative honesty and maintaining a kind of balance, this aspect could have been developed, as Mortara, fascinated by the pope-kidnapper, even took the name of Pius and was his supporter until death. However, the Italian director had a different goal, hence he strongly emphasizes melodramatic tones, highlights and suggests interpretation through music, and presents scenes that are heavy to digest. The narrative he uses is really meticulous, causing the film to lose tension and pace at times. However, the strong moments resonate even more. Quite an unusual paradox.
I was absolutely enchanted by the visual aspect of “”Kidnapped”. It is simply an elegant film, beautifully depicting the past and transporting to the realities of another era. Perhaps there are no interesting formal technical solutions here (playing with framing, colors, etc.), but in terms of set design, especially the depiction of the splendor of the Vatican, it is incredibly unique at times. Almost unparalleled. In this respect, as well as in terms of the way the narrative is built on a strong opposition and polarization of values, it is a production as if from 30 years ago. I have a bit more to say about the acting, mainly because there are not such distinctive roles here. I think this is also a deliberate move to draw attention to the tragedy rather than focus on acting bravado. However, there are also such moments. Barbara Ronchi as Edgardo’s mother stands out in this regard. She is a full-blooded character, full of visible anger, human emotions, and resentment. Paolo Pierobon as Pius IX also stands out on screen, but tonally, sometimes his character leans towards unintentional grotesque.
“Kidnapped” is primarily a film about the depravity of power, where religion is shown as a truly powerful tool. It can take away a person’s independent thinking, kill emotions, feelings, and block freedom of choice. It is difficult to remain indifferent to some scenes depicting violence and blatant injustice towards the Mortara family. Scenes of Edgardo’s kidnapping and his subsequent indoctrination evoke clear rebellion, disagreement, and anger. This was Bellocchio’s goal. In my opinion, however, the Italian director has veered quite far from the ambiguity of morality that I knew from his previous works. I missed space for interpretation for the viewer. Only bitter regret and anger due to the events portrayed remained. However, it was difficult to avoid a straightforward judgment of such a ruthless and disgraceful act as taking a child from parents in the name of any religious rights. This is inconsistent with any moral ethos. Hence, I understand the goal of the Italian creator.