From the big sale to the big story: the making of the “Palazzo di Cozzo”

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Director Madeleine Martiniello had passed countless times in front of Franco Cozzo’s Footscray furniture showroom.

One day, she had a light bulb moment: why no one had ever told her story?

Italian-Australian Cozzo is arguably Melbourne’s most famous and charismatic furniture entrepreneur, as known for his ostentatious baroque furniture as he is for his low budget trilingual ’80s TV commercials proclaiming “Big Sale!” “,” Megalo! And “Pied-is-cray”.

Martiniello had embraced the modern myth that Cozzo’s stores were no longer open, with the Footscray store appearing to keep odd hours and the lights never fully on.

As she walked past, she said to herself: “It would be really interesting to film this abandoned baroque exhibition hall.

“It’s so visually appealing and inherently cinematic, even though it’s very suburban and urban,” she tells IF.

“I thought there was something quite poetic about the aesthetics of the furniture and the space it was in.

It was a combination of feeling that there had to be something worth visually exploring through the film, and also knowing that there had to be some kind of interesting story there, because Franco Cozzo is a bit of an icon in Melbourne. “

A two-minute Google revealed that the stores were indeed still open, so Martiniello picked up the phone. Franco responded – despite being 80, he still works at the Footscray store six days a week.

He invited Martiniello into the showroom, and while she didn’t have a clear idea of ​​what she wanted to do, she wrote him a paper on what she imagined the movie might look like.

It took a few weeks to get the initial deal done, but longer to gain Cozzo’s trust. It helped that Martiniello had Italian grandparents.

“I innately understood his behavior and his cultural background; I knew how to interact with someone from that generation, because both of my father’s parents emigrated at the same time as Franco from Italy. We also bonded with that. “

It was a four-year process from the day Martiniello first introduced Cozzo, to the resulting film – titled Cozzo Palace – premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in August.

History has fluctuated during this time as well. Initially, Martiniello was drawn to the unboxing of Franco’s pop culture status; how and why this had happened in a social and historical context.

However, a current observational story has also emerged about Cozzo coming to the end of his career.

“I wanted to see if he was still relevant to the local community as a successful migrant figure, but also to see how it impacted him as well. This is what took a long time to figure out. How does it feel to be in a final chapter of your life, to have received some form of eccentric attention for the most part, and what happens when you have to reckon with it? abandonment of that? “

Originally, the director had hoped to travel with Cozzo to his hometown in Sicily, which COVID put an end to. This once again meant that they had to rework the final arc of the film, in that it couldn’t be a “trip home.”

It was also a process for Martiniello as a filmmaker, for whom Cozzo Palace is his first feature film project. When she started filming, she was only one year out of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).

She shot about a year of footage herself before securing funding which enabled her to bring in cinematographer Vincent Lamberti. As a child of Italian migrants, who speaks fluent Italian, he was a valuable addition not only technically, but also in earning Franco’s trust.

“Across from Franco’s old store in the suburb of North Melbourne, Vincent’s father owned an Italian music store. There was an instant connection.

Cozzo Palace is produced by Philippa Campey and Samantha Dinning, with whom Martiniello also directed the ABC Art Bites series The unavoidable. However, they had started to work on Palace previously, Martiniello had first asked Campey for advice.

“She really supports young female directors and often works with first-time female directors,” says Martiniello.

“I was quite overwhelmed by his willingness to support me as I had just finished film school.”

With a majority of MIFF screenings online this year due to COVID lockdowns, Martiniello has yet to experience his film with an audience. However, due to demand, there were additional special screenings on MIFF Play.

“It was really weird, sitting in my living room thinking about the people who were watching it for the first time at home,” she said.

“But from what I gleaned from social media and the people messaging me, people seemed to have really enjoyed the movie. In a way, because it’s so Melbourne and it’s locked up here, there was that nostalgic warmth that people longed for. I think in fact, in a weird way, it fueled this overreaction. ”

Cozzo Palace will premiere in theaters opened yesterday via Sharmill Films and will screen on ABC at a later date. Martiniello hopes the film connects with people across Australia, not just Melburnians – that they appreciate Cozzo’s charisma and joie de vivre, and reflect on his migrant history and sense of home.

“I hope they understand the unique area of ​​pop culture that it exists in and that they have the opportunity to consider if there is someone similar in their hometown.

“Or just think about the confluence of the wave of migrants Franco arrived and then the media he exploited. By the way, it happened in 1956, the year television came to Australia as well.

Palazzo di Cozzo is now in select theaters.

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