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In the summer of 1858 in Italy, then referred to as the Papal States, a little boy was taken from his family. Edgardo Mortara, who was born to an Israelite couple residing in Bologna as their sixth child, was summoned to Rome and once there Pope Pius IX ordered him to become a Catholic. However, an event happened that brought about immense controversy all over Western world on the condition and ordeal suffered by Jewish communities at Italy during Papal State rule when it became ordinary for Jewish boys to be snatched away for conversion into Catholicism. Even American media such as The New York Times carried stories about it.

Kidnapped is a film about this story, which recounts how Edgardo was kidnapped and his family fought hard to bring him back home. A co-production combining efforts of Germany, France and Italy in making Kidnapped had its first show at the Cannes Film Festival 2023 and later travelled around other film festivals; it is now being shown at the New York Film Festival.

Although largely based on historical events that took place centuries ago, Kidnapped also draws inspiration from an Italian book on the Mortara case and European reports after the press reported what occurred in Europe since then;. This case still goes on today with some people even defending the pope’s actions up until today.

The story begins in Bologna in 1850s. To open this movie we see a scene of a Jewish family living in a city having just received their sixth newborn child whom they would pray for.Anna (the maid) who later identified herself will be standing by watching everything then rushes out of her house towards streets – she believed that this child was sickly and dying after all he wasn’t baptized catholic due to fact that he is only Jewish hence his soul should end up rotting in limbo forever.She couldn’t let her baby go to hell because of being Jew so she took a desperate step. She went and secretly baptized the baby with advice from the grocer.

Some years later, one day one of the officials of Holy Inquisition office, Pier Feletti, sent for Edgardo who is now six. Under Catholic-run state laws at that time, if someone was given a baptism it actually made him or her a Christian and if he or she was a minor then nobody else other than Christians could bring them up. As such, since Edgardo’s family were all deeply religious Jews, Feletti took the decision to have Edgardo taken away by police and imprisoned in boarding school meant for Jewish children being converted into Christianity.

Edgardo’s parents begin the fight to try and get him back as they know that Italian Pope Pius IX, who had a reputation of snatching away Jewish children from their homes and converting them into Catholics. When Edgardo is kidnapped, news travels across Europe all the way to the United States of America; however, all this infuriates Pius IX even more, thereby convincing him further that there are some kids who have no choice but be taught by force despite their miserable circumstances.

And at first these boys are not fully willing. Every night Edgardo would recite Hebrew prayers while another boy called Elia whispers to him in low voices that if they are obedient and polite enough with the teachers who teach them they will go home. But later, it becomes crystal clear through such incidents like when Edgardo’s family tries hard but one sick boy cannot even die to make his kidnappers let him go as planned. As time goes on, he will eventually yield to his situation as he spends more days apart from his parents becoming a staunch Catholic hence denying his origin or background.

This movie at its core is about religious conversion by coercion and there are valid critiques of Pope Pius IX’s actions. While the boys under his care were properly fed and clothed during their stay with the Pope, ignorance bordering on anti-Semitism seems to fuel most activities throughout this film. The servant girl who baptized him – Anna – did so only because she thought Jews could never enter heaven despite working for a Jewish family herself.

Kidnapped is ostensibly about an actual case: during Italy’s Papal States era little Edgardo Mortara was taken from his family and brought to Rome where he was made Catholic. Although Edgardo does grow up to become an avid believer of Catholicism; however, irreconcilable differences between what he knew before and what he now hears push Kidnapped into an entirely new sphere. Kidnapped does not overtly tackle these issues, but it is hinted at towards the end as Edgardo struggles in one defining moment when Pius IX is no more; he still refuses to let go of his former self.

However, this movie doesn’t explore its time period or what it did to the characters as deeply as it could have done. The story itself hints at this, such as in scenes with Edgardo starting to get suspicious about his captors and remembering all that he had been made to leave behind, but Kidnapped could’ve taken a better look into the psychological trauma impacts. There are definite lines between good and bad, depending on who is watching this film and their personal opinion while others may cheer when an aging Pope IX finally dies leaving his mess for someone else to clean up, it seems like he was simply cast into a villain’s mold.

This is fine for a narrative framework, but it needs to be more complicated if one is going to put their own thoughts and projections onto it. Kidnapped’s camera glides down cathedral corridors and infiltrates the dark figures hiding in them at night; this stylishness of the film makes it appear interesting. Nevertheless, further additions are needed so that there can be continuity from Edgardo’s cries for his mother to how he ultimately rejects everyone and everything that made him Jewish when his brother comes looking for him after liberating the city many years later.

While Kidnapped does not necessarily detail what happens to an individual when they are forced into a different religion as a child, it certainly does show what happens when power structures begin falling apart, although we do not really see those things. Edgardo Mortara was only five years old when he was snatched from his home in Bologna Italy by Inquisitors on June 23rd 1858; this act caused even greater international outrage against the Papal States. Eventually however, Italy came together as one country through its rebellion against the rule of the Pope over her territories.

In this film Pius IX is depicted as someone who thinks himself God’s representative on earth hence people cannot question him. He fails to understand why people would want to revolt against him; ultimately leading to his downfall as soldiers march into Rome and occupy Vatican City. While searching desperately for ways of rescuing his son, Edgardo’s father had asked for help from Pope who has been depicted in the movie trying hard to play paternal role with little Moratarra by claiming that if Moratarra family converts into christianity then he could be allowed back home. By end of this movie he becomes a dictator and everybody else will go to hell.

Kidnapped’s ending brings out some major points about kidnapping but leaves something wanting where focus of such kidnappings is concerned. Although not one of Bellocchio’s best films, it does get the job done. By telling a micro-story within the macro context of the fall of Papal States, one can visualize what politics means and how identity is stripped off in an act of force.

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