Franco Zeffirelli: Remembering More than 50 Years of Artistry
By Kala Herh
Franco Zeffirelli delighted audiences around the world with his colorful, softly focused romantic films. Last Saturday, one of Italy’s most prolific directors passed away in his home.
“He had suffered for a while, but he left in a peaceful way,” his son Luciano told the Associated Press.
Zeffirelli was most known for his films, such as Romeo and Juliet and Jesus of Nazareth. In making art, his aim was to make culture accessible to the masses. In addition to film, he was also considered a master in the theater and opera realms for his directing of opulent productions — La Boheme, Carmen, and Othello to name a few — and for that reason, he was often considered a sultan of all three. In a 2006 interview with Associated Press, Zeffirelli wrote, “I am not a film director. I am a director who uses different instruments to express his dreams and his stories — to make people dream.” He worked with opera greats Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Maria Callas, and Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Mel Gibson, Cher, and Judi Dench.
After a fatal car accident, Zeffirelli became a devout Catholic under Padre Pio. It inspired him to create the five-part series, Jesus of Nazareth, that has become an enduring feature in Catholic communities. Throughout his life, Zeffirelli struggled to find the middle ground between his two worlds: the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community. Criticized by Catholics for “blasphemous depictions” of their rituals, he was also criticized by gay activists for aligning himself with the Vatican who have historically opposed gay and abortion rights.
One of Zeffirelli’s crowning achievements that still remain is his ability to bring Shakespeare to a new generation. Romeo and Juliet was hypnotic, high spirited, and heartbreakingly beautiful. It set box-office records in the United States with the film grossing over $52 million and making it one of the most successful Shakespearian movies.
To this day, the name Zeffirelli will always be synonymous with a spirit of youth. It is this vigorous impression that he left on Hollywood.