He is one of the last icons of Italian cinema and theatre.
Franco Zeffirelli, who turns 90 this year, welcomes us inside his home.
Zeffirelli rose to fame in the 1960s with classics such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Franco Zeffirelli talks to us about his long and rich career, and his hopes for Italy ahead of this month’s general election.
Eri Garuti, euronews: “Maestro Zeffirelli, if you were to shoot a film on Italy today, how would you depict your country for the rest of the world to understand it? What kind of film would you shoot?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “The key words that best describe Italy are still the same. What emerges throughout the country and over the centuries is this “couldn’t care less” attitude, some people’s superiority over others, the way we always try to find defects in others while trying to hide our own. Nevertheless, Italy is the cradle of much of the world’s culture. We, Italians, all too often neglect the fact that we gave the world a number of discoveries, not only artistic, but also scientific and in the fields of medicine and astronomy.”
euronews: “Do you like Italy as it is today?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “Italy today has the appearance of a world power and, it is, in a way, from an economic point of view. But there is also a great confusion of opinion and a ridiculous number of political parties. In the first years of our democracy, there were two clear sides. In those days, the world was also divided in two: on the one side, the communists, and on the other, the capitalists.”
euronews: “You experimented with politics with Forza Italia, the party founded by Silvio Berlusconi: you were elected senator in 1994. What memories do you have of that time?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “I didn’t lead a politician’s life. Rather, I tried, through my commitment, to embody the qualities of the Italian people and the principles of a certain political philosophy, totally opposed to fascism. Generally, politicians should not get involved in culture because it just makes them look foolish. And vice versa, men of culture should not get involved in politics because that isn’t possible in Italy.”
euronews: “But if you were culture minister today, what would you do?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “I would open schools everywhere so that young people would no longer be entrusted to teachers who give them a mistaken view of society. You mustn’t forget that a lot of Man’s most important deeds were born on our little peninsula. All too often, we neglect the responsibility that is ours. It’s always been that way.”
euronews: “Are you still in touch with Silvio Berlusconi?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “Yes, I like him. Of course, he has flaws, but I like them. The problem with flaws, is that you either like them or not. In some people, you don’t like them, but in others, you do. Ok, so Berlusconi goes and sees prostitutes, but that’s life. Apart from that, he’s a self-made man.”
euronews: “Do you have plans for a museum in Florence?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “I am currently working on a project to set up a foundation that would be named after me. I have had a long and rich life and I think I still have some days, weeks or years ahead of me, I don’t know. I want to leave behind everything I have done so that others can benefit from it. At the heart of this foundation, there will be a permanent exhibition on everything I have done in my life.”
euronews: “You enjoy world-wide recognition. Which actors or artists did you get along with best?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “The job of an actor is very important because it gives human beings the opportunity to break down the barrier of reality and open up a world of fantasy. Theatre is a like a door which allows people to pass on dreams to each other. When an audience goes to see a show, it is bewitched. A great actor allows each member of the audience to understand what is hidden deep inside him.”
euronews: “Which opera do you think best represents Italy throughout the world?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “There are many. But for me, personally, I am totally enslaved to La Bohème. When I listen to it, I stop anything I am doing, and I am transported into the wonderful memory of that piece by the extraordinary madman who was Puccini.”
euronews: “Thank you very much Maestro. And finally, can you tell us what are your hopes for Italy?”
Franco Zeffirelli: “We can do anything we want, as long as we make good use what destiny blessed us with. With his qualities, spiritual and creative energy, each man can create his own little paradise.”