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Franco Zeffirelli

The Golden Age of the Renaissance


- Leonardo, Macchiavelli and Michelangelo are the protagonists of I Fiorentini, the director’s lifelong dream’s about to become reality

Franco Zeffirelli

Outspoken, controversial, unique. Judgemental, frank to the point of rudeness and with a distinct prediliection for paradox and given to firing off his opinions with the tact and delicacy of a bazooka. Franco Zeffirelli, the world renowned director of stage and screen, set and costume designer and an authentic walking talking modern-day Renaissance Man who learned his art at the feet of no less a master than Luchino Visconti. Zeffirelli, a virtuoso in the art of kitsch, and close friend of the great and good is, perhaps, the best known Italian filmmaker in the United States and the world. His aim in life has always been the pursuit of beauty, with the odd concession to glitz and glitter. Today, at the grand age of 80, Franco Zeffirelli – the evocative name was invented by this illegitimate young boy – has still not tired of searching for the marvels of life, beauty and cinema. For quite some considerable time Zeffirelli has been engaged in the pre-production work on I Fiorentini (The Florentines), about the meeting in the Tuscan capital of three of the Renaissance period’s most significant personalities. The director is selecting locations and is scheduled to film the story in the winter and spring 2003-2004 for release in the autumn of next year.

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“This film has been in my head for many years,” reveals Zeffirelli. “I have always been fascinated, curious and seduced by that moment, that short period in which Florence was home to Michelangelo, as he sculpted his David while Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. This is not a question of simplifying history to fit a film: between 1501 and 1504 Michelangelo created his statue of David, which now guards the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria and became the symbol of the Florentine Republic. 1503 saw Leonardo return to Florence to begin painting the Mona Lisa for Giuliano de’ Medici. It amuses me to imagine that one could hear Michelangelo’s scalpel cutting into the marble at the same time as Leonardo’s brush strokes to the Mona Lisa, after all, their respective workshops were close by.”

“And it wasn’t just those two,” continues Zeffirelli. “That was a magical time for Florence, and for the world of art and beauty. There was a young councillor of the Republic called Niccolò Macchiavelli who met Leonardo Da Vinci.” It is well known that as well as being a fine painter, Leonardo was also an engineer who, amongst many other things, invented a machine that could fly. It appears that a meeting with Macchiavelli resulted in one of Leonardo’s most ambitious and crazy ideas: to deviate the Arno River by means of a massive canal which would join the river to the sea, effectively by-passing Pisa. The latter was a rival republic to Florence and this deviation would create a devastating drought in Pisa and make its takeover by Florence easier to accomplish. The project began on 29 August 1503. It was an extraordinary and magnificent disaster. The film will also make reference to some of Leonardo’s inventions. “For the first time, we will use special effects,” reveals the director. “This will be a big-budget feature that will attempt to recreate the grandiose complexities of an era.”

Zeffirelli is planning on spending August scouting for locations throughout Tuscany. “Florence has been overused and almost nothing dating back to the Renaissance era remains. All the streets have been changed. It’s easier to find the Florence that I am looking for in other Tuscan cities where the passage of time has been more clement.” Like San Gimignano where Zeffirelli made two of his most celebrated films, Brother Son, Sister Moon and Tea with Mussolini? “No. That is precisely why I will not be shooting in San Gimignano. We’ve used up all its resources. I was thinking about towns like Volterra, places that have maintained their charm and which haven’t been exploited as much in cinema.” Volterra was a major film location just once in its history: when Luchino Visconti made Vaghe Stelle dell’Orsa.

The characters portrayed in The Florentines includes the boy who inspired Michelangelo’s David, as well as Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola, tried and condemned for heresy and crucified on a burning cross on 23 May 1498, and whose ashes were scattered in the Arno. Also making an appearance is Lorenzo the Magnficent who died in 1492, a few years before the real glory years, but one of the instigators of that wonderful era. “This is my most ambitious project ever. The result will be a TV film of around 5 hours’ duration, probably in three 90’ episodes. Why TV? Because I love cinema, but love the audience more. And in order to reach the widest audience possible, you must use the most powerful medium at your disposal, the one that arrives at the eyes and hearts of everyone.”

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