Marco Bellocchio’s Kidnapped takes the blindness of dogma to Cannes


CANNES – The producers’ quota of the box office takings for Day One of the theatrical release of Marco Bellocchio’s new film, Kidnapped, in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and distributed in Italian cinemas from 25 May by 01 Distribution, will be donated to the relief fund for flood-hit Emilia-Romagna. “Part of the film was shot in Emilia and we wanted to make a gesture of support” (find all the film’s locations here).

The film is loosely inspired by the book by Daniele Scalise Il caso Mortara and brings to the screen the story of little Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish boy who was taken from his family by Papal State authorities in 1858 to be raised Catholic in the care of Pope Pius IX.  The case caused international clamour, and fascinated even Steven Spielberg years ago.

“I read the book several years back and found the story fascinating.  But as Spielberg was already preparing the film in Italy, we stopped,” says the director. “Some time later, during a trip to America to promote The Traitor, we found out that Spielberg had paused the project, apparently because the right child actor couldn’t be found.  So we started up again.  What we were preparing certainly resonates today, but I never had the slightest intention to make a political or ideological film against the Church or the Pope.”

Priests and Jews: reactions to Bellocchio’s new film

In addition to the extreme trauma of little Edgardo’s violent separation from his family, the film focusses on the child’s confusion and his attempts to continually conciliate the wishes of his second father, the Pope, with his mother’s contrasting aim of bringing him home.  Above all, it examines the concept of dogma that, as such, can never be questioned.

“Several priests who saw the film – says Bellocchio – were clearly emotional, but above all they were thoughtful.  I also wrote to the Pope to ask to show it to him but he hasn’t answered.  I understand he has more important things to do but I will keep waiting and hope that he will watch it.  Several Jewish people also saw it and were very moved.  A clearly emotional reaction that I was pleased by.  It means we did our job well”.

As Edgardo grows up, he decides to remain in the Catholic faith and becomes a priest: was that a real conversion?  “The Jews don’t think so.  But there is a mystery here, he paid for this conversion with his life, with physical suffering. He spent his entire life attempting to convert others, his family, although I believe he never converted anyone.  It was a choice clearly forced upon Mortara as a child, “I will survive only if I convert”, but, once he was free to make his own decision, he selected to stay faithful to the Pope.  This makes his conversion a fascinating question that can’t simply be written off as deriving from the principle of survival.”

Casting and location scouting in Emilia-Romagna

Enea Sala is the young star of Kidnapped

Casting and location scouting for the film began in March 2022 in Emilia-Romagna, with support from the Emilia-Romagna Film Commission. The search for the young main character, the central point of the story, was focused on Emilia-Romagna, where young Enea Sala was found.

“The fulcrum of the cast, that one worried me, was the child – says Belloccchio. “I wanted a real child, one who didn’t act like the sad kids we see daily in advertisements.  I was immediately impressed by Enea’s approach, his eyes”.

In addition to searching for the young character, Bellocchio also spent several months scouting potential locations, with a range of professionals including location manager Marco Bergamaschi. They covered a vast area in Emilia between Parma and Bologna, Ferrara, Comacchio and Bagnacavallo.

The locations of Bellocchio’s new film

The approximately three months of principal photography began in summer 2022 in Piazza Minozzi in Roccabianca, a small town in the province of Parma, where the Mortara family home was created.  The square served as a set in the past for Lord of the Ants directed by Gianni Amelio.  The production then continued into a range of locations in Emilia-Romagna, starting in Sabbioneta, in the province of Mantua, a jewel inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 (previously a set for the series Medici and the Rai drama The War is Over) where Bellocchio shot in the synagogue. Another production location was Bologna, Edgardo’s birthplace, where the setting of the time was created by using several rooms in Palazzo d’Accursio, piazza Maggiore and areas in the historical centre. The Baroque Church of San Barnaba, in the centre of Modena, was also used for some interior scenes.  The Oratorio dei Filippini, in the heart of Rome, provided the reconstruction for the refectory of San Pietro in Vincoli (find all the film’s locations here).

Fabrizio Gifuni in the cast of Kidnapped: a focus on ‘removing’

Fabrizio Gifuni in the cast of Kidnapped

Fabrizio Gifuni plays a difficult and controversial character – the inquisitor Padre Pier Gaetano Feletti, a cold functionary of the Papal State who intransigently applies norms that leave no choice:  they must be adhered to in good faith and never discussed, at the risk of being forced to leave the community.

“What I wanted to work on was removing things, looking to recreate a lack of light in his eyes.  As if, in his blind application of the norms, something had unplugged apart inside and his body had turned off.  I asked what happens inside a person who has to embody that kind of position and apply those rules.  Is there a moment when they consider the fairness of what they are doing or not?  I don’t have any answer to that; tackling the complexity of the question was interesting enough in itself”.

Kidnapped also stars Paolo Pierobon, Fausto Russo Alesi, Barbara Ronchi, Leonardo Maltese (adolescent Edgardo), Filippo Timi, Andrea Gherpelli, Samuele Teneggi, Corrado Invernizzi, Aurora Camatti, Paolo Calabresi, Bruno Cariello, Renato Sarti, Fabrizio Contri, Federica Fracassi.

The blindness of kidnap: from Edgardo Mortara to Aldo Moro

On the one hand, a child violently taken from his family, Edgardo Mortara, on the other a great statesman kidnapped in the name of an ideal, Aldo Moro.  What do the two kidnaps have in common?  “Blindness” answers Bellocchio: that ideological belief that can underpin a crime in the name of an absolute principle.  “On the one side the blinkered ideology of the Red Brigades, blindly convinced that society would become communist under a Revolutionary Workers party:  on the other the non possumus of the Pope.  A child baptized is Christian forever and so must be educated in the Christian way.  Nothing can be questioned:  I kidnap you because God wants it.  It is impossible to let the child go; the position is absolute”.

Kidnapped by Marco Bellocchio, story and trailer

1858: the Pope’s soldiers burst into the Mortara family home in the Jewish quarter of Bologna.  They have come for Edgardo, the family’s seven-year-old son, on the Cardinal’s orders.  According to the testimony of a household servant, the child was secretly baptized as an infant, at a moment when he was believed to be at death’s door.  Papal Law is absolute: the boy must receive a Catholic education.