Italy, France, Germany


In 1858, in the Jewish quarter of Bologna, the Pope’s soldiers burst into the home of the Mortara family. By order of the cardinal, they have come to take Edgardo, their seven-year-old son. The child had been secretly baptized by his nurse as a baby and the papal law is unquestionable: he must receive a Catholic education. Edgardo’s parents, distraught, will do anything to get their son back. Supported by public opinion and the international Jewish community, the Mortaras’ struggle quickly take a political dimension. But the Church and the Pope will not agree to return the child, to consolidate an increasingly wavering power …

Director's Statement

The story of the kidnapping of the little Jew Edgardo Mortara interests me deeply because it allows me to represent first of all a crime, in the name of an absolute principle. "I kidnap you because God wants it. And I cannot return you to your family. You are baptised and therefore Catholic forever'. The Non Possumus of Pius IX. That it is right for an afterlife salvation to crush the life of an individual, indeed of a child who does not have, as a child, the strength to resist, to rebel. Ruining his long life even though little Mortara, re-educated by the priests, will remain faithful to the Catholic Church, will become a priest (and this is a fascinating mystery that cannot be solved with the sole principle of survival, because after the liberation of Rome, Edgardo, finally being able to 'free himself', will remain faithful to the Pope) and will even attempt until death to convert his family who remained faithful to the Jewish religion.
The kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara is also a crime against a quiet, averagely well-to-do family, respectful of authority (which was still in Bologna, the authority of the Pope-King), in years in which an air of freedom was being breathed in Europe, in which liberal principles were being affirmed everywhere, everything was changing and for this very reason the kidnapping of the little boy represents the desperate, and therefore violent, will of an authority now in agony to resist its collapse, indeed to counterattack. Totalitarian regimes often have setbacks that for a moment delude them into believing they are winning (the brief awakening that precedes death). In addition to the extreme violence of the act suffered by little Edgardo, I would like to recount his bewilderment, his pain, after the forced abandonment, but also his constant attempt to reconcile the will of his second father, the Pope, with the opposite will of his parents to bring him home. Tenacious the mother's determination, weaker the father's rebellion, who thinks only of the child's welfare.
Edgardo, trying all his life for an impossible reconciliation, will never deny his parents, his origins, never resigning himself to the fact that his mother will remain Jewish until her death.
But in this always tenaciously affirmed Edgardo's converse, there will be no shortage of sudden rebellions, unexpected, more or less unconscious, Edgardo will never become an automaton of the Pope, and proof of this is the suffering, with the numerous prolonged illnesses that will force him into bed for long periods
Edgardo will also physically pay for this unquestionable statement of faith. Happiness will remain a fading memory of the years before the kidnapping (Edgardo had not yet turned seven)...
As I said before, the other enigma of this story is Edgardo's conversion. The child (too small and easily influenced, which is the prevailing thesis. To convert in order to survive. Which in modern times would be called the Stockholm syndrome) converts and throughout his life remains faithful to his second father, the Pope, in the physical person of Pius IX.
Now, I do not want to look for a 'middle' position, but certainly his conversion so absolute apparently without ever having the slightest doubt makes the character Edgardo even more interesting... And it pushes us towards worlds that do not exist for us, but that exist for so many men... We can look at the 'phenomenon' from the outside or, with love and participation, just try to portray a child who has been raped in his soul and then a man who, faithful to his rapists whom he believes to be his saviours, becomes in the end a character who exempts us from any rational explanation. It is a film, not a history or philosophy book, nor an ideological thesis.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Marco Bellocchio

Written by: Marco Bellocchio, Susanna Nicchiarelli

Main Producer: Simone Gattoni, Paolo Del Brocco, Beppe Caschetto

Cinematography: Francesco Di Giacomo

Editing: Francesca Calvelli, Stefano Mariotti

Production Design: Andrea Castorina

Costume Design: Sergio Ballo, Daria Calvelli

Make-Up & Hair: Enrico Iacoponi, Alberta Giuliani

Original Score: Fabio Massimo Capogrosso

Sound: Adriano Di Lorenzo, Lilio Rosato, Gianluca Basili, Nadia Paone

Visual Effects: Rodolfo Migliari

Casting: Maurilio Mangano

Cast: Fausto Russo Alesi (Momolo), Barbara Ronchi (the mother)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 2023