This cannot be invented. In 1858, in Bologna, a 6-year-old boy was taken from his Jewish family by the Pope’s soldiers. All this because he was allegedly baptized in secret by his nurse. The event did not go unnoticed. All over the world, cartoonists got involved, who were unaware of the existence of social networks. With The Kidnapping, Marco Bellocchio dwells on this news item which seems to have been imagined by a novelist lacking inspiration. It's too big. The scales fall from the eyes. All of this is real from A to Z. We cannot always see in the cinema the adventures of a sailor spending her time getting drunk or the improbable underbelly of an electoral campaign between the two rounds. We see from this that kidnapping was already a national sport in Italy. The filmmaker was interested in this curious discipline with Aldo Moro in Buongiorno, notte.
Little Edgardo finds himself in a religious college. He must renounce his faith, learn Latin, attend mass. In the dormitory, under the sheets, he quietly recites the prayers he has always been taught. The family does not recover. The father is solemnly received by a cardinal. No result. Pius IX does not budge: the kid will have a Catholic education. His loved ones try to get him back: the idiots charged with this task have the wrong child.
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At times, the unwilling convert is seized with doubts. They don't last. The soul obeys contradictory injunctions. Cut off from the world and his family, bathed in a deep and frugal solitude, Edgardo moves away from his roots. He discovers the vocation of another future. It’s a tragedy in slow motion. Meanwhile, Vatican authority is challenged. His power is declining. Anger rumbles. The flags are waving. The sovereign pontiff does not move an eyelash. Italy is beginning to unify, to fall into disarray.
Marco Bellocchio unfolds this intimate fresco with a firm hand, a camera sure of its movements. It mixes the decades in a stained glass light. It is a chiaroscuro opera, rocked by violins that are sometimes melancholy, sometimes thunderous. A black wind is blowing there. Surprising things happen there, hearings, trials, tears and screams. Hopes are dashed, amid the noise and the jostling.
As in a documented soap opera, the hero hesitates, loses his temper, grows old. We follow him in his throes. We understand his discomfort. In one episode he lunges at His Holiness, which is shocking. Later, a healthy anger would flare up in front of the hearse of his spiritual leader, on a bridge spanning the Tiber. It's too late. The man is, let's say, a victim of Bologna syndrome. The mystery remains. Edgardo remains like the ways of Providence: impenetrable.
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The film, solid and weathered like a period chest, moves forward with a determined step, with efficiency and refinement, imbued with controlled lyricism. Bellocchio has a voice that carries. Whispering is not in season. History inspires him. His convulsions fascinate him, as a seismograph of his country. He will perhaps be criticized for some unnecessary excesses in pomposity (the nightmare of the Pope, Christ coming down from his cross, the overplayed anger of the father). This is a beautiful picture book. Melodrama is not going to die. He is a thousand times right. Amen.
Le Figaro's opinion: ○○○