Director Marco Bellocchio has filmed a history of Italy in which the fate of one person—Edgardo Mortara (played at age 6 by Enea Sala, as an adult by Leonardo Maltese)—galvanized opposition to rule over parts of the country known then as the Papal States.

During the mid-19th century, those who spoke Italian were seeking to create a unified state of Italy by ejecting Austria, France, and Spain from controlling parts their lands. An excuse was found to stop papal control of Bologna and nearby territories when papal authority kidnapped Edgardo from his Jewish family home on the pretext that he had been secretly baptized six years earlier by Anna Morisi (Aurora Camatti), a Catholic housekeeping employee, without the approval of his Jewish father or mother. After she confessed baptizing the baby to the Bologna’s inquisitor, Father Pier Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni), papal police went to the Mortara home and took custody of Edgardo in June 1848.

Subsequent Catholic training of children was totalitarian, and Edgardo did not know how to break free from the control. When his mother came to visit him, he tried to rebel but was quickly trained to conform. Meanwhile, word of the kidnapping spread, leaving Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon) with little international support and motivating Italian citizens to join the effort to unify the country, initially by having Bologna secede from the Papal States, as occurred in 1859. When Edgardo’s father tried to retrieve his son after Father Feletti was charged with kidnapping, the Bologna court refused, leaving liberation of Rome from the Papal States as the remaining option. Although not mentioned in the film, French troops guarded the pope up to 1870, when they left to defend France from an attack by German troops (the Franco-German War of 1870-1871), thereby enabling Italian nationalists to prevail over the remaining papal territories. But by then Edgardo was a fully committed Catholic and did not want to reunite with his family.

When the pope died in 1878, there was an uprising including a mob that sought to throw his corpse into the Tiber River, which Edgardo impulsively approved. Yet Edgardo did not attend his father’s funeral, and he unsuccessfully tried to baptize his mother when she was on her deathbed. A title at the end indicates that Edgardo lived his final years as a priest in Belgium.

The Political Film Society has nominated Kidnapped, which has the Italian title of Rapito, for best film exposé in bringing to light an almost forgotten part of Italian and Jewish history, as well as for best film demonstrating the need for democracy.  MH

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