MISTAKES AND CONSEQUENCES, “The Kidnapping of the Pope”, by Marco Bellocchio

MISTAKES AND CONSEQUENCES, “The Kidnapping of the Pope”, by Marco Bellocchio
MISTAKES AND CONSEQUENCES, “The Kidnapping of the Pope”, by Marco Bellocchio

The ways of film distribution, like those of God, are mysterious. What decisions we don’t know about, what improbable negotiations must have taken place so that we can see in Colombian cinemas the latest film by Marco Bellocchio, a warrior of a thousand cinematic battles at almost 85 years of age and one of the undisputed directors in the history of Italian cinema. And the question is valid above all because this is not the film that will make him popular among the Latin American public. Not because it is inaccessible or boring, which it is not, but because it deals with a historical event that should matter to very few on this side of the Atlantic.

The Spanish title also lends itself to misunderstandings. The poor translation turned the original Italian, “Rapito” (Kidnapped) into “The Kidnapping of the Pope.” And as more and more people have no idea what they are going to see when they visit a movie theater, there will be no shortage of those who think they are going to see a historical film about someone who wanted to kidnap the Pope, when it is quite the opposite. We will see, presented with beautiful photography and an admirable production design, the events surrounding the kidnapping ordered by Pope Pius IX in 1858 of the Jewish child Edgardo Mortara, who had apparently been secretly baptized by a Catholic maid at a time when his life was feared for.

Being a Catholic, Edgardo was supposed to be covered by the Pope’s mandate over all of Christendom, which meant that he could decide his destiny even against the will of his family. And since Pius IX had the bad luck of being the last Pope who was a king, that is, the last to be sovereign of the Papal States, that incident became a scandal that was part of the motivation for the military battles and political fights that ended with the absorption of those territories by Italy. So controversial was his management (among whose orders was the reestablishment of the Jewish ghetto in Rome) that there were many voices against it when John Paul II advanced in the process of his beatification. Because there are old hatreds that never die out.

Bellocchio, however, prefers to concentrate on the intimate drama, on the family tragedy that losing Edgardo meant for the Mortaras and on the confusion that this generated in a 6-year-old boy who did not know what was happening. The most beautiful sequence in the film is Edgardo’s dream in which he removes the nails from the Christ in a chapel, and Jesus walks away from there, perhaps as the boy would have wished, fleeing from a punishment he did not ask for. As Edgardo’s childhood passes, the film loses steam and becomes political and exaggeratedly transcendental (like his music) until it recovers its vigor at the end. A vigor that some, very few, will enjoy as they should, not for lack of passion for cinema, but because someone, like the Pope of the story, made a bad decision, one of those that comes loaded with good intentions. And we already know what the end of the road that is built with them is.

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