Toni, the son of an emigrant Italian mother, deported back to Italy from Switzerland where he had a difficult childhood and adolescence, lived for years in a shack by the river without ever succumbing to loneliness, the cold or hunger. Meeting the sculptor Renato Marino Mazzacurati was his chance to return to painting, the beginning of a redemption story in which he feels art is the only way to form his identity, a real opportunity to make his name known and loved by the world. “El Tudesc, ” as people called him, was a lonely, scrawny, ugly and often mocked and humiliated man. He became an imaginative artist who painted a fantasy world of tigers, gorillas and jaguars on the banks of the Po river. Overpowered by a regime that wanted to “hide” people who are different and a victim of his own anxieties, he is locked up in an institution. He quickly returns to painting while there. More than anyone, Toni paints himself, as if confirming his wish to exist beyond the rejection he had been enduring since childhood. Leaving the psychiatric hospital is a turning point towards redemption and the public acknowledgment of his talent. Fame allows him to show off the wealth he has gained and open his eyes to the life and feelings he had always repressed. His work over time has proved to be a gift to collective humanity, the gift of his diversity.

Director's Statement

This film is inspired by Antonio -Toni- Ligabue (1899-1965). Toni was born in Switzerland where he had a troubled childhood until he was thrown out and sent to Italy, where he lived as an outcast in the fluvial woods of the Lower Po. An ugly and deformed man, he was a primitive painter who achieved global fame only after his death. In his immense solitude full of nightmares, Ligabue could sense an invisible energy and he exaggerated the reality of the senses by painting a ferocious jungle with lions, tigers and gorillas. In making himself an animal, he recognized their superior energy. Life and death buzz in his paintings. A reflection on the value of diversity Toni, considered mad back then and often also today, was more than anything just a child who had been rejected many times. He was born with physical problems that made him an outcast, that caused his marginalization and probably also his mental disorders. He was, however, a man who could express incredible talent and a strong and original point of view on life through art. He approached painting without any sort of technique, without knowing Van Gogh or les Fauves, to whom his work seems in some ways to relate. His paintings express a unique perspective on life. They describe it as the continuous struggle to not give in and contain a strong desire for redemption. His sculpture are not only realistic but express intense vital impulses. His self-portraits are photographs into his soul, and his face has small changes in expression in each piece: his eyes interrogate the observer, ask them to listen, to recognize, to show affection. Like any human in life, Toni at times felt inadequate, wrong, defeated, and his first instinct in those moments was to hide, to escape from the world. Retracing the path of his life, it appears evident that his being seen as “different” was the source of many of his problems but also the generative nucleus of his artistic identity and success. The story of Toni Ligabue has an intrinsic and strong value of spectacle due to the extraordinary events that characterized his life, and it also offers, through his journey, an important reflection on the value of “diversity.” Every person is preciously unique, which, beyond appearances, can be a gift to collective humanity. “...if I am different from you, that also means that I can give you something you don’t know...” the memory of something a disabled boy said to me years ago. Toni’s story is a “bitter fairy tale” in which a significant bond with life and the ability to never give up constantly emerge. He resists loneliness, the cold and hunger while he lives for years in a shack by the river. He overcomes humiliation, including several hospitalizations in re-education institutes and psychiatric hospitals. The story of Ligabue enchants and interrogates, and it combines the apparent contradiction of an unshapely physique, a mind veiled by mild madness and bright talent that is left hidden for a long time. When it finally emerges, it becomes an extraordinary element in the construction of his identity and the imagined, anticipated and sought after chance for redemption. Visual approach The narrative development of the screenplay comes from the intention to follow the simple biography of Antonio Ligabue in order to propose a narrative journey that follows Toni’s spirit and makes the emotions he experiences the cornerstone of the story, a relationship that allows viewers to more intimately and profoundly participate in his life. Although it takes place within the dimension of realism and adheres to the truth, under the surface, the film will impart the sensation of the “dark tale” that accompanies Toni throughout his life and the codes of behavior he himself personifies, starting with dress, but also in the way he expresses himself, gesticulates and moves. Even the world around him recalls the archetypes of fairy tales, like the stepmother and the “ogre” father, the director of the boarding home, the mean boys who tease him and the adults who mock him. Then, when he becomes an adult, a chorus of people – the townspeople – surround him. Most repel him, some are surreal and fabled characters themselves, but slowly some friendly figures emerge, those who will be fundamental for Toni’s redemption. Ligabue recalls also some characteristics of characters from Charlie Chaplin films who, like him, deep down are fighting for their place in the sun of society.

Director's Biography

Born in Bologna on 21 December 1959, Giorgio Diritti is a director, screenwriter and editor. His debut film, THE WIND BLOWS ROUND (2005), participated in more than 60 national and international festivals, winning forty awards. He received five nominations for the David di Donatello 2008 and four nominations for the 2008 Silver Ribbons. His second film, THE MAN WHO WILL COME (2009), was presented at the 2009 Rome International Film Festival, where it won the Marcus Aurelius Silver Grand Jury Award, the Golden Aurelius Audience Award and "La meglio gioventù" Award, which is assigned by a young jury of film critics. It was released in January 2010 and it won many prizes including Best Film, Best Producer and Best Sound Awards at David di Donatello 2010 and Best Producer, Best Set Design and Best Sound at the Silver Ribbons 2010. In 2013 he presented at Sundance Film Festival THERE WILL COME A DAY, starring Jasmine Trinca.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Giorgio Diritti

Written by: Giorgio Diritti, Tania Pedroni, Fredo Valla

Produced by: Carlo Degli Esposti, Nicola Serra

Cinematography: Matteo Cocco

Editing: Paolo Cottignola, Giorgio Diritti

Production Design: Ludovica Ferrario, Alessandra Mura

Costume Design: Ursula Patzak

Make-Up & Hair: Aldo Signoretti

Original Score: Marco Biscarini, Daniele Furlati

Sound: Luca Leprotti, Marco Biscarini, Carlo Missidenti

Visual Effects: Rodolfo Migliari

Casting: Barbara Daniele

Cast: Elio Germano (Antonio Ligabue)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematography 2020
  • European Costume Design 2020
  • European Actor 2020
  • Feature Film Selection 2020