Marco Bellocchio On Making His Cannes Competition Title ‘Kidnapped’ To “Save” The Pope & Why Steven Spielberg Dropped Out Of Making A Similar Film About The Catholic Church 

“I didn’t make a film against the pope or to condemn the Pope,” Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio said of his Cannes competition title Kidnapped at the official festival presser this morning.

The pic, directed and co-written by Bellocchio, follows the story of 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara, who was stolen from his Jewish family to be raised in a Catholic seminary on the spurious grounds that a maid had secretly baptized him in the cradle.

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.

“In this story, the pope is the bad guy, but that isn’t what I wanted to show. I wanted to save him,” Bellocchio said.

Later during the presser, Bellocchio was asked about reports that Steven Spielberg had been prepping a similar film about the Catholic church and the Mortara scandal, which he confirmed.

“Steven Spielberg was preparing a film on Edgardo Mortara. He’d already started preparing this film and contacted various colleagues. He did some location scouting, and several actors had already been contacted,” Bellocchio said. “However, Spielberg’s project then came to a halt because he didn’t find the right child.”

Mortara added that while Spielberg’s project had been taking shape, he believed the story could not be accurately told by performers who didn’t speak Italian.

“The film cannot be made in a language other than Italian with regional Italian accents,” Bellocchio said. “It would have been a different film if it was shot in English.”

It’s unclear whether Spielberg planned to shoot the film in English or Italian.

Deadline’s Stephanie Bunbury described Bellocchio’s film as a story of “unmitigated wickedness that it initially would be hard to believe if it were not meticulously referenced with times, dates and locations.”

“Bellocchio can verify every twist in the tale, chapter and verse. Ultimately, this serves his larger purpose, which is to wind the Mortara family’s trials into the bloody story of Italy’s unification as a secular state,” Bunbury wrote.

The Cannes Film Festival runs through May 26.

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