Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped (Rapito) is the chilling real-life story of Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old boy who is taken by the Church from his Jewish family, to be raised and grow up within the Catholic faith. This heart-wrenching drama takes place in the 19th century, amid the decline of the Papal States as a political power, and unification of the Kingdom of Italy.
The tender unit of the Mortara family is disrupted when suddenly one night, church officials knock on their doorstep, to take Edgardo, the sixth of eight children, claiming that he was baptized as a baby and, according to Papal law, he must be raised Catholic. He is taken to Rome, where, along with other Jewish boys, he is indoctrinated within the church’s upbringing, and is taken in by Pope Pius IX.
In parallel, Edgardo’s parents, Momolo and Marianna, are all but powerless to combat the Catholic Church, the political and legal authority of Bologna during this era. They go to Rome to see their son, but their interactions are supervised, stilted, and short, like visiting a prisoner. From both ends – Edgardo and his parents – they grapple with how to best end and resolve this nightmare situation, whether it’s through complacency and putting on a show for the church to prove devotion to Catholicism and be freed, or to protest and rebel, to the point the church is forced to release him.
Momolo and Marianna also work with Jewish leaders to call attention to this travesty, and a greater international community calls for the Pope to release Edgardo; but, as head of the Papal State, Pius claims no obligation to any authority but God’s, and doesn’t budge.
The story covers a great deal of political change in Italy, all within a relatively short period from 1852 through 1878, beginning with a Bologna under Papal State rule, then the creation of the Kingdom of Italy, the Capture of Rome and the annexation of the Papal States in 1870, up through the death of Pius IX. The Edgardo Mortara case plays no small part in fueling the backlash against the Papal States, demanding an end to unchecked church power, committing lingering Inquisition atrocities in a modern age.
Beyond its historical context, Kidnapped is at its core a family drama, brought to life through heartbreaking performances by Edgardo’s parents, Marianna (Barbara Ronchi) and Momolo (Fausto Russo Alesi, from Bellocchio’s The Traitor). One of the film’s standout scenes is of Marianna seeing her son, who’s been with the church for some time, and their visit feels cold and distant. As Edgardo is escorted away, he bursts away running to his mother, breaking into tears and assuring her that he still recites the Shema nighttime prayer, and he longs to return home. In a setting where putting on a face and playing by the rules is the only path to survival, this outburst of authenticity, heightened by Fabio Massimo Capogrosso’s powerful musical score, is a devastating emotional peak.
Marco Bellocchio’s film recounts an unimaginable family tragedy, contextualized within the broader historical picture of the decline of the Papal States. Kidnapped is a chilling reminder of the horrors that can result from unchecked, absolute power.