In Bologna 1852, a lady having had a romantic tumble with a beau sees him off then spies her employers praying over their baby.

Six years later the Mortara family are disturbed at home by a functionary and officers who have come to take away their son Edgardo (Enea Sala). He was reported to the authorities as being baptised a Catholic, in a Jewish family. His father Salamone (Fausto Russo Alesi) is perplexed, mother Marianna (Barbara Ronchi) devastated but there appears nothing they can do against the power of the church.

A meeting with the instigator of the abduction, Father Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni) is fruitless. He only promises that the boy will stay in Bologna and they can visit him. The former is broken, the latter complicated when Edgardo is taken to Rome.
What follows is Edgardo’s indoctrination to Catholicism through manipulation, and his family’s fight to get him back using both international publicity, domestic pressure and the courts.

Based on a true story this is a complex story that involves Catholic dogma, Judaism, the intertwining of church and state, with the creation of Italy as a country and the ensuing challenge to the power of the Catholic church.

The ingrained antisemitism of the time and the Catholic church is vividly displayed when the venal Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon) has an audience with Jewish dignitaries and in a display of absolute conviction and power, he grimly humiliates.

However the main element is the tragedy of the Mortara’s and their son. The boy initially stays true to his Jewish faith, reciting the Shema every day. But his curiosity, in particular with Christ on the cross, and the daily teachings begin to erode his will and faith.

This is played out brilliantly by the actors and guided with some skill by director Marco Bellocchio, co-written with Susanna Nicchiarelli and Edoardo Albaniti. There’s no punishments or beatings, just the church remorselessly pressing their values on Edgardo.

It’s disturbing seeing Edgardo’s identity so ruthlessly transformed to the point that he no longer recognises his own family’s values. The scene where Edgardo visits his dying mother and his utter failure to understand her or what he is proposing is devastating.

It’s not a comfortable watch neither is it a chore as the story, while complex, the film is structurally linear, save for a couple dream and nightmare sequences.

It’s not hard on the eye either; it looks wonderful. The period detail juxtaposing the opulence of the corrupt Papal court with the struggles of the Mortara’s and the nascent political movement taking to the streets challenging the rotten institutional powers.

Kidnapped will be in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from 26 April 2024.