A film metaphor for human powerlessness, of its inability to grasp the essence of life and to act to change it according to criteria of truth.
Enzo Vignoli

“It is a film, it is neither a history nor philosophy book, nor an ideological thesis.” This is what Marco Bellocchio had to say about his most recent film, presented at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. He is echoed by Fabrizio Gifuni, who plays the role of the inquisitor Pier Gaetano Feletti in Rapito (Kidnapped): “It is a totally free cinema, which chooses to tell the complexity of the human soul and characters. Once the story has been established, Marco focuses on the characters without prompting an interpretation to the spectator. So the feeling of disorientation and constant emotional shifting is really part of this experience.”


If Bellocchio does not intend to suggest any interpretative key, the first thing that may come to mind is the juxtaposition to the ethics of journalism, which considers it possible to state facts separately from their interpretation. If a film is neither a historical exegesis nor a philosophical treatise, then, in the case of Kidnapped, one must understand what the director’s intentions and limitations might be.


The only possible consideration (not specific, but of a general nature) seems to me to be that of a total impossibility of the human being to arrive at a consensus on the idea of freedom that could unite and bring them closer to any other human being. The complexity and inextricability of the historical vicissitude of every living being is so absolute as to prevent any accommodation, any resolution that could reconcile the reasons of not say all, but “the other.” History, which exalts and dethrones the power of all, depending on the prevailing forces in the various epochs in which the millennia-long history of humanity unfolds, testifies to the unlikelihood that a critical vision that sees “the triumph of truth” will prevail over time, unless by “truth” is meant the subjugation of the strongest. It is the difficulty of any critical judgment that one comes up against, given man’s inability to grasp “the other” except subjectively.


Thus, the meaning of the film’s title, beginning with the fact that, on June 23, 1858, Edgardo Mortara was kidnapped by the Vatican authority. This becomes a metaphor for human powerlessness, its inability to grasp the essence of life and to act in order to change it according to the criteria of “truth.”


Poster of the movie Rapito (Kidnapped) by Marco Bellocchio

This event, portrayed by Marco Bellocchio in a dramatic, intense, dry manner, was not an isolated case. Similar events are historically documented: Jewish children secretly baptized by persons outside their families because they were believed to be in danger of death, and as such destined for Limbo, were taken away by the Catholic religious authority and brought up according to its dictates.


The resonance that the papal action had abroad, the indomitable will of the Mortara family to get back the stolen child, the popular anger against the religious power, all weld into the film, with political motivations and with the aspiration to achieve a more complete national and moral unity even before political and territorial unity. So much so that it does not seem improbable that, in the film, the hypothesis of a close relationship between the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and the taking of Porta Pia in 1870 a possible concomitant of historical inevitability hovers.


The most dramatic and painful symbolic scene in the film seemed to me to be that of the death of Edgardo Mortara’s mother. There is no hope, there is no redemption, there is no mending of a love destroyed from the ground up, deprived of any possibility of subsistence. I have wondered if the refusal to abdicate one’s freedom has not been engulfed by the alienating force of a religious apparatus that erases all traces of humanity, of love, of respect. And into that vortex of horror are drawn both Edgardo and his mother, who find no way of reconciliation, both abducted, devoured by the inhuman Moloch that is religious fundamentalism. The human being deprived of all human connotations, of the hope of life and love, by the push of a force that does not allow for hesitation or doubt and to whose reign there are those who entrust themselves so that they no longer have to fear death.


A snapshot of a take during the filming of the movie Rapito (Kidnapped) by Marco Bellocchio, Piazza Maggiore, BolognaOutstanding among them is the acting performance of Barbara Ronchi, who had already starred under the direction of Marco Bellocchio–again in the role of a mother–in Fai bei sogni (2016) and who is a well-known figure to the general public for her participation in a successful television series. Worthy of note is the fleeting appearance of a scenically reconstructed Bologna still shrouded by the city walls. A historical monument that resisted until the early 20th century, a residual testimony of a medieval world whose traces were to be erased to make room for modern conceptions driven by economic needs. Those walls seem here to symbolize the impossibility of any liberating thought to undermine papal power and, as such, destined to disappear.


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