“The Pot-au-Feu” does not have much plot. Dodin accepts a dinner invitation from a prince and winds up at an eight-hour meal that still leaves him hungry for Eugenie’s cooking. Eugenie’s health begins to fail her, although she tries to hide it from Dodin. But what is sensational—in the most literal sense—about the movie is the loving attention it devotes to the meal preparations. The cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (“The Death of Louis XIV”) makes extraordinary use of natural light, whether it’s the sun streaming into the kitchen or the candlelight that sets the atmosphere during dinners. The first time we see Dodin reiterate his marriage proposal to Eugénie—in a nighttime, postprandial conversation outdoors—Tran’s camera almost floats between Binoche and Magimel. He gives the actors the space to craft their performances organically, just as their characters would demand of their food.
The first two of three Italian features in competition have started. (Alice Rohrwacher, who made the third, won’t get her premiere until Friday, when the festival will be over for most people, at least mentally. The same lousy placement for Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up” last year doomed it, in my opinion, to being an afterthought here instead of the critical favorite it ultimately became.)
First up was Marco Bellocchio with “Kidnapped,” which finds the “Fists in the Pockets” and “Vincere” director in the color-bleached historical mode that he has favored of late. But if the film isn’t going to win any style points, it is authentically, compellingly angry, which is no small feat considering it’s about a much-discussed case that occurred in the 19th century, the Mortara affair.
As the film tells it, in 1858, church officials arrived at the house of the Jewish Mortara family in Bologna and informed them that one of their sons, Edgardo (Enea Sala), then six years old, had been baptized, and therefore could not live with them. Edgardo is taken from the Mortaras and raised as a Catholic, and he is in effect rewarded for acting pleased with his own captivity. The circumstances of the baptism—whether it actually occurred, whether it counted, why it came to light when it did—are just the tip of the iceberg of matters that Edgardo’s father (Fausto Russo Alesi) must deal with while navigating church and government politics and the press. (The case became an international flashpoint.) The film builds to a powerful scene between Edgardo and his mother (Barbara Ronchi) that drives home how completely the abduction altered who Edgardo was.