Cannes 2023: Church and Communism

"Rapito" by Marco Bellocchio and "Il sol dell'avvenire" by Nanni Moretti


Last year Marco Bellocchio was awarded an Honourary Palme d'Or. Almost 60 years ago, the now 83-year-old Italian made his first film and is still active. In his films he has repeatedly dealt with his strict Catholic upbringing.  Explicitly in "L'ora di religione" (My Mother's Smile, 2002) and now again in "Rapito" (The Abduction), his seventh invitation to the Cannes competition.

The story focuses on an historical event. In 1858, 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara, son of a Jewish family in Bologna, is forcibly snatched from his parents by the papal police and entrusted to the care of the Pope. A housekeeper claims to have baptised him secretly as a baby. Bologna was then part of the Vatican State and Pope Pius IX was the last papal king ("Rei Papa") to rule over half of Italy.
The case makes international headlines, but the family's efforts to get the boy back are unsuccessful. Little Edgardo is brainwashed into the Catholic faith. When the revolutionary forces of the Italian monarchy conquer Rome and put an end to the Pope's political rule, it is too late. Edgardo is completely alienated from his family as well as from his Jewish culture. Two key scenes serve as an exemple, as Edgardo hides under his mother's skirt when the police wants to take him away, whereas  later in Rome he hides under the Pope's cassock while playing hide-and-seek.
Bellocchio stages this criminal chapter of church history with the force and passion of a melodrama. It is shocking to what extent Catholic Anti-Semitism goes, defaming jews as the murderers of Christ, who in the afterlife will be suspended in an eternal state pre-hell called limbo.

Faced with his loss of power, Pius IX reacted with aggressive resistance, proclaiming fundamentalist dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the infallibility of papal authority, and the threat to excommunicate those who dared to vote in democratic elections.  Beyond its historical relevance, Bellocchio's film also addresses present issues. When the Pope for example takes the little boy on his lap and strokes his hair, one cannot help but being reminded of the Catholic Church's scandalous history of sexual abuse.


Like Bellocchio, Nanni Moretti is a frequent guest at the festival. With his new film "Il sol dell'avvenire" (The Sun of the Future) he is invited to the competition for the ninth time, more often than any other director. In 2001, Moretti was awarded the Palme d'Or for his film "My Son's Room". His new film is something like a summary of his cinematic career. There are numerous quotations and references to his earlier films. Once again, the central issue is the question: What does it mean to be a communist? An existential and political dilemma Moretti posed insistently in his classic "Palombella Rossa" (Red Wood Pigeon, 1989), at a time when the Italian Communist Party was facing an identity crisis after the collapse of the socialist systems of Eastern Europe.
In "Il sol d'avvenire" Moretti plays the director Giovanni, who shares many peculiarities with his author. He is shooting a film set in 1956. The Hungarian circus "Budavari" comes to Rome to visit the Italian comrades. Meanwhile, in Budapest, the uprising against the Stalinist regime begins and is violently suppressed. Silvio Orlando as the editor-in-chief of the party newspaper "L'Unitá" wants to wait and see how the party leadership reacts, while his party comrade and lover, Vera (Barbara Bobulova), calls for solidarity with the Hungarian uprising. She sees the film is in any case more of a love story.

Director Giovanni is also privately tormented as his wife (Margherita Buy) wants to leave him and his French co-producer (Mathieu Amalric) turns out to be an impostor. Giovanni no longer understands the modern world, is upset about violence in the cinema and the ignorance of an actor who has no idea that there was once a communist party in Italy. Moretti makes fun of his own foibles in a more self-ironic way than he has done in a long time. A great comeback after some weaker films in recent years.