(JTA) – For years, Steven Spielberg intended to direct a movie about Edgardo Mortara, a 19th-century Italian Jew who was kidnapped by the Catholic Church and raised Christian, eventually becoming a priest, while his Jewish family lobbied to free him.
But Spielberg is no longer making the film after having trouble casting the role of the young Mortara. Instead, viewers’ best chance to see Mortara’s story onscreen will now be via a separate Italian production helmed by director Marco Bellochio (“The Traitor”), who shared details about his take on the material at the Cannes Film Festival.
Spielberg’s version would have been based on the book “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara,” by Jewish historian David Kertzer, and was to have starred Mark Rylance, with a screenplay by Tony Kushner. Oscar Isaac was at one point attached to the project as well. Bellochio suggested to Variety that the project stalled because Spielberg was reluctant to make a movie that would have cast Jewish-Catholic relations in a negative light.
“My impression is it was a political problem,” he said. “This story, even though it’s set 170 years ago, can be perceived as re-igniting the conflict between Jews and Catholics at a time when they are seeking peace, not conflict. And Spielberg has such a great stature in the Jewish world.”
Bellochio’s film, to be called “The Conversion,” will not be based on Kertzer’s book but instead on first-hand historical documents. It will be financed by Italian production companies and is scheduled to start shooting next month.
Spielberg’s next film will focus on an entirely different Jewish family: his own. “The Fabelmans” — an autobiographical drama about the director’s own childhood also written by Tony Kushner and starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams and Paul Dano — is scheduled for a Thanksgiving release.