Kidnapping of children, anti-Semitism and proxy war between the Church and the forces of Garibaldi in Italy of the Risorgimento: the rage of the maestro Marco Bellocchio returns at the Cannes Film Festival
When in 2009 marco bellocchio he turned 70, he had just released the magnificent ‘Vincere’, suffocating fiction about Mussolini. Since then, far from retiring or wallowing in self-satisfied fictions, the director of the Piacenza remains the same or more combative than then. And just as prolific. ‘Quick’in competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, confirms that he has not lost an iota of cinematic energy or political commitment.
With ‘Rapito’ he competes for the Palme d’Or with the true story of Edgardo Mortaraan Italian priest of Jewish origin who when barely six years old, he was kidnapped by the forces of Pope Pius IX. Apparently, he would have been secretly baptized when he was a baby.
The origin of the plot takes us to the night of June 23, 1858 in Bologna, when the gendarmes of the Papal States appeared at the Mortara house demanding custody of the childas a Christian. By then, Bologna was part of the borders of papal authority, since Garibaldi’s forces had not yet unified the country that would come to be called Italy and the Vatican had more territory.
We are at the dawn of Risorgimento, the bourgeois-nationalist political movement that would help to unite the country democratically and, with it, to eliminate the aristocratic structures of the elite of that time. With that narrative magma, and in case you haven’t imagined it yet, what follows in ‘Rapito’ will horrify you.
‘Rapito’: a film full of strength and rage
Alleging that the child is a Christian, the ecclesiastical authorities separate the child from his family and transfer him to the Vatican, where he receives a Catholic education supervised by Pius IX himself with the aim of embracing dogma and becoming a Christian. “soldier of Christ”. The boy’s parents, meanwhile, move Rome with Santiago to be able to recover his son, in a fight that Bellocchio films as a true nightmare.
Through a classic narration, Bellocchio follows all the characters paying attention to the motives and decisions that accompany them and involving some of the most tense moments by the music of some exacerbated violins and full of virulence.
Although this insistent rage can be criticized – it is clear which side of history the filmmaker is on: you just have to see the large puppet portrait he made of Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon)–, the truth is that this position is not only consistent with Bellocchio’s thought, but can also be understood as an act of poetic justice in the face of terrible events imposed by divine mandate.
In this sense, the film raises a not trivial question: What are the political, economic and social springs that allowed the Pope tothe highest representative of Catholicism in the Christian world, kidnapped a little boy and separate him forever from his family?
Challenge to History
As in many previous works, from ‘Buenas giorno notte’ to ‘El traidore’, to cite some of the most well-known among the recent ones, Bellocchio uses the fiction of a fact to challenge History. ‘Rapito’ not only exposes the sinister past of the Catholic institution, a regular target in its cinema, but also the deep anti-Semitism already entrenched throughout Europe at that time.
The pressure exerted on Edgardo Mortara (and on other Jewish children) was so strong and the conditioning to which he was subjected was so subtle, that the protagonist, as an adult, tried to get his family to convert to Catholicism. The way Bellocchio approaches that passage is absolutely creepy.and denotes, without fear of underlining, the lack of scruples of an institution whose privileges were beginning to be questioned.
Bellocchio’s mission to recover those dark moments in history also underscores the dangers of faith, the dogma to which the Catholic Church clings and never questions its vision of the world. That fanaticism has in Mortara, the filmmaker tells us, one of its most terrifying executioners and one of its most terrible victims. The priest continued to proselytize for the Holy Roman Church until his death in the Monastery of the Canons Regular at Bouhay, Belgium, in 1940.