Antonello Belluco

January 12 2020 | by

YOU HAVE written and directed one of the most famous films on our Saint, called, Anthony: Warrior of God, which hit the big screens and then became available on DVD throughout the world. What relationship do you have with St Anthony?

I have always loved the Sacraments and have always strived to be a good, practicing Catholic. Having lived with my grandparents, who were devout Christians, there were two fixed reference-points in my life: one was my parish, the Basilica of the Carmine in Padua, and the other was the Basilica of St Anthony, where we often went to Mass on Sundays.

I have loved and appreciated the beauty of the Basilica since childhood, where the warmth and the light of the shrine made me feel at home. Even as a child I felt the desire to share the magnificent beauty of the Basilica with others.

For about 10 years I earned my living mainly by producing TV commercials, but then in 1994 I decided I wanted to do something that was less superficial and more spiritual.

Thus began a difficult period in my life, because I had a wife and two children to maintain, but I decided to take the risk anyway, despite all the advice to the contrary from friends and relatives. I remember finding myself at home one day feeling lonely and anxious about my future, so I took up the phone book, opened it, and the first thing I saw was, ‘Messaggero di Sant’Antonio’. Something inspired me to make contact, and that was the start of a 10-year collaboration with your Publishing House. During those 10 years I conceived the desire to make a film on St Anthony, and when the Audio-Visual department of ‘The Messaggero’ was closed in 2004 I started to make the film Anthony: Warrior of God.


What inspired you to make that film about the world’s best-loved saint?

 I knew that a message brought to the big screen has such a powerful and persuasive force that it is capable of bringing down walls that seem impenetrable. For instance, during a meeting of friars in Rome some novices were asked what drove them to become friars, and one of them said that my film on St Anthony was his main inspiration. Also, a few months ago a woman told me that my film had changed her life for the better. The film was ‘pirated’ extensively from YouTube, and hundreds of thousands of people wrote positive comments about it.


What aspect of Anthony strikes you most?

In reading Anthony’s Sermons I understood that he was very direct with people, and I tried to bring this out in the film. I see Anthony as a great politician of God, and in fact one of my aims in the film was to set up Anthony as a symbol, an inspiration for politicians to work for the well-being of the people they represent.

I feel honoured in having been able to make a film about him because he was a man of action; he had a strong personality and was capable of engaging people with his oratory.


St Anthony is called “the Saint of Miracles” and many people invoke him to receive help in their difficulties. However, he actually campaigned vigorously for what we today call ‘human rights’. What aspect of Anthony did you highlight most in your film?

I highlighted his efforts at improving human rights. The film does not highlight his miracles with the exception of the Miracle of the Fish.

One curious event is that, when we were filming that miracle at the beach of Sabaudia, some 90 kilometers south of Rome, quite inexplicably a lot of fish appeared at the location. There were about 60 of us, actors and technicians, and the most worldly among us said, “Let’s take advantage of this immediately before the fish disappear!” I took this as a beautiful and divine sign indicating that the film would garner God’s favour.

One important moment in the film was when Anthony went to Pope Gregory IX, who praised him but demanded obedience to the Church. Now Anthony, being a Franciscan, was wedded to poverty despite the fact that, being a priest from a rich family, he could have remained in Portugal in the comfortable study of his Augustinian monastery. Yet, he left that monastery to become a Franciscan because he wanted to experience poverty; he wanted to go through physical and material deprivation in order to understand poverty, and once he had actually experienced it he was able to challenge the rich and powerful Church about the issue. The Church preaches poverty, but often many of its leaders are unable to experience it. I highlight this in the film when I have Anthony ask a cardinal, “Do you know poverty? Do you know what hunger is?”


What are the biggest differences between Anthony’s world and our own?

Certain mechanisms of morality and decadence were the same then as they are now. The only things that have really changed are the advent of technology, improvements in medicine and our greater knowledge about the world.

In those days it was dangerous to go out at night, and you could get killed for the money in your pocket. This no longer happens in the safer parts of our modern cities, but we have other types of violence in our society. People live longer and there are less murders, but we are not living in a Thomas More type of Utopia where everyone looks after the other’s well-being. Let’s hope humanity will be able to realise this great ideal in the future.


You recently made a film called On My Shoulders. This film is dedicated to another saint who is venerated here in Padua: Saint Leopold Mandić. What can you tell us about this great saint who is so little-known outside of Italy?

On My Shoulders portrays an Italian family business led by Andrea Brandi during and after the First World War. When the Great Depression arrives in 1929 the firm goes bankrupt, and Andrea is tempted to take his own life, much like some entrepreneurs nowadays are led to commit suicide when they go bankrupt. Andrea’s wife is a doctor with a strong connection to science. Despite this she believes in God, whereas her husband is agnostic. They come into contact with Mrs De’ Santis, a feminist widow, when she accidently kills their young child while driving.

St Leopold is the common thread connecting all these and other protagonists of the story. Through his patient capacity to listen and his warm-hearted approach, Leopold is able to convey his sense of divine purpose in life. By quoting Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, the 15th century mystical philosopher, Leopold is able to explain, using simple yet philosophical language, who God is and how He can become a part of our day-to-day lives.

There are many nuances in the film. Every single word has great importance, and was well thought-out beforehand. All the protagonists are representatives of people living 100 years ago, but they are as relevant as ever.


Saint Leopold died in 1942. During work on the script were you able to meet people who actually knew him?

I was able to meet several people who actually met him, and we even filmed what they had to say about him. They remember going to confession to him as children, or they remember the way he used to say hello to them. All of these testimonies have enriched our image of Leopold, of a saint who, in the reserved, quiet conversations that took place in his confessional, was able to harness the conscience of a whole city, the city of Padua.

In my room I have a picture of me kissing the hand of Saint Pope John Paul II. It was a privilege to be able to kiss the hand of a truly great man. Those who have met great people or were able to touch them are capable of keeping them in their hearts, and this is why I decided to record on film all these testimonies on St Leopold. These testimonies, which are not part of the film, will go into a documentary connected to the film.


St Leopold and St Pio of Pietrelcina were the patrons of the Great Jubilee of Mercy. Why were they chosen for that spiritual role?

Both Leopold and Padre Pio were great confessors. However, I get the impression that Padre Pio may have been rather strict at times, whereas Leopold was often accused of being too soft. In fact, the title On My Shoulders actually points to this aspect of his spiritual approach, which could be summed up in the phrase: “Do not worry, I will take it all on my shoulders.”

This is why there were always long queues of people in front of his confessional. He saw the goodness in all people, even in hardened criminals, and this is why people felt that they were able to gain access to God through him.

People who have children, like myself, know that whatever your child might do against you, like striking you, for instance, you will always forgive them and welcome them back home should they come knocking at your door. Likewise, God will always welcome us, his children, no matter what sins we may have committed. This is what Mercy truly means.


Why did the Italian Catholic Bishops’ Conference confer upon St Leopold the title of ‘Patron of Cancer Patients’?

Leopold died of Oesophageal cancer in 1942. In the last phase of his life he had difficulty swallowing, so much so that he often ate at the home of a woman who prepared soup for him, which was easier for him to swallow. Incidentally, during a recent scientific examination of his body a team of anatomopathologists from the University of Padua found his organs to be well preserved, and we filmed this.

When people are diagnosed with cancer they often become highly agitated, and the fear of death creeps in. The tragedy of life-threatening illnesses highlights our primal fear of death. These people begin to ask themselves all sorts of questions about the meaning of life, and they often become more open to accepting God in their lives. So, the Italian bishops decided to confer that title upon St Leopold not only because of his personal experience of cancer, but also because he had always been very close to the sick and the suffering, and was able to reveal the presence of God in their sufferings.

In Old Testament times it was believed that those who had great possessions and health were blessed, while those who were poor or ill were cursed. Some Protestant denominations still believe this. The Catholic Church, however, holds an entirely different view. The Catholic Church acts as a consoler, which some thinkers, like for instance Karl Marx, who said that “religion is the opium of the people,” view negatively. In reality, the Church’s stance is a gesture of love toward those who are disadvantaged. Not only that, the Church’s stance also fosters compassion: if you have a cold and I also have a cold then I understand your problem better, but If I have no cold and you have one then it is easier for me to say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.”

By making Leopold the patron of cancer patients the bishops are inviting them to study St Leopold’s life, and thus find the light and comfort they need. It is very important to console people who are afflicted through one’s physical presence, embracing them and talking to them. It is very sad when people have to stay in hospital with no one visiting them. I have had personal experience of this, and it really does make one sad. It is a great tragedy to be in hospital with no one to comfort you.


Who is God for you? How would you define him?

This is the question I placed at the end of the film when the young interpreter turns to St Leopold and asks him, “Who is God?” and Leopold quotes from Nicholas of Cusa’s On the Hidden God. In the book, written in 1444, the German Cardinal maintains that God is the Father of all, but His Presence, Being and His All are so immense and beyond our comprehension that it is not possible to find words or concepts to define Him, with the sole exception of one word which Christ gave to us, and that word is ‘Love’. Where love is there God is, for God is love. God was incarnated in that person who was crucified, and in this way humanity received a divine and tangible image of God, which is Christ. Leopold says, “Before the Alpha and after the Omega is the infinite.” Now when you try to imagine the infinite it almost becomes finite, however, our limited conceptual capacity to understand a Being who has created everything will never be equal to this task. Our only hope is Christ, the God who became man; this is the only tangible reference point we have, and above all he can be followed and imitated.


What does God expect from us?

Surely, that we do not remain indifferent to our neighbour, that we do not turn a blind eye to the evil in the world. He also expects us to do something for those who need our help, to “do unto others as we would have others do unto us.” In other words, God expects us to place ourselves in other people’s shoes, and when you do that you also understand that others can also put themselves in our shoes. This gives rise to the concept of fraternity, of the communal life, and all this boils down to the concept of spiritual love, which has nothing to do with sexual love. One of the greatest sins in today’s world is indifference. We are so used to seeing violence on the TV that we have become anaesthetised to it.


A new year has just begun. What wishes would you like to extend to our readers?

I wish that your readers, and the whole of humanity as well, learn to live peacefully with their neighbours. Unfortunately, today, there are some laws that are obstacles to Christian love.

I also wish that your readers may be able to rediscover those deep, intimate human and Christian values that our secular, noisy and hectic society obscures.


BORN ON 28 August 1956 in Padua, Italy, Antonello Belluco holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Padua. After some years working in radio and in private television networks, from 1983 to 1987 he was a programmer/director for RAI, the Italian National Television network.

Following the successful experience of his first music video clips, Belluco directed commercials for several national campaigns, and he continues to bring his cinematographic skills into his television ads.

Author and director of three musicals, The Music Wall (Pink Floyd), Joe & Kuti Angel, and The Risen (which was chosen for the 2011 Madrid World Youth Day), he has directed several films and documentaries.

His first important film Anthony: Warrior of God with Jordi Mollà, Arnoldo Foà and Mattia Sbragia, has been a worldwide success. He then completed Giorgione, followed by The Secret of Italia, which heralded the return of star Romina Power to the screen.

Belluco also wrote the script for the film Red Land, about Norma Cossetto, one of the thousands killed during the ‘foiba massacres’ towards the end of the Second World War. He has just completed his latest film On My Shoulders, dedicated to St Leopold Mandić. My Secret of Italia is his first book.

Antonello Belluco has two daughters: Giulia, 29 and Caterina, 26.

Updated on January 12 2020