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Marco Bellocchio's 'Kidnapped' debuts at Cannes on the abduction of Edgardo Morara by Pope Pius IX


Marco Bellocchio's dramatic narrative Rapito (Kidnapped) premiered at Cannes where the award winning and esteemed Italian director spoke about why he chose the project about a Jewish boy kidnapped by the Papal states in 1858.  Baptised Catholic by a servant, after failed attempts to convince the boy's parents to raise him as a Christian, Edgardo is kidnapped by the Inquisitor of the Holy Office Pier Gaetano Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni) for Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon). Edgardo's parents (Barbara Ronchi and Fausto Russo Alesi) are unable to see their son for months.

Bellocchio, who is a non-practicing Catholic, read the story and was deeply touched and wrote the script with Susanna Nicchiarelli, Edoardo Albinati and Daniela Cesellin based on Daniele Scalise's novel Il Caso Mortara. Since it is well known that Steven Spielberg had begun a film project on the kidnapping, Bellocchio was quick to point out that it was based on another book -  David Kertzer’s  The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. Though Spielberg looked at locations and actors his project came to a halt, according to Bellocchio,  because he could not find the right child. He insisted it was important that the film use a regional Italian actor and that such a film could not be made in English.

The director especially esteemed the child actor in his film who played Edgardo , Enea Sala, who did not know anything about Catholicism or the sacraments such as christening, and confirmation. The screenplay was in Hebrew and Latin, and Sala learned his dialogue well.

The real-life boy Edgardo seemed to understand what people were thinking and had to survive and adapt, according to Bellocchio. He was never mistreated or struck. Pope Pious IX wanted to protect him as a symbol of the temporal and spiritual power of the Pope. Bellocchio called him a dictator who did not want to lose power. The filmmaker said that the focal point of this history is the kidnapping of this child in the name of religion. There were other kidnapping cases, hundreds and hundreds in the 19th century because a Catholic servant was needed for Jewish families on Shabbat.  Quite often children were christened in secret by a Catholic servant working for a Jewish family.

Once Edgardo becomes an adult, he is fully aware of what happened and that he's been separated from his family. In his unpublished memoirs in 1888 he insisted that he was not kidnapped by the Vatican. Leonardo Maltese who plays Edgardo as a young man wanted to portray the pain within him during his entire life.

Bellochio takes up Pope Pius IX's refusal to release Edgardo as one of the reasons used to dissolve the Papal States in 1870 and solidify the unification of Italy . 

©Moira Sullivan


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