PALAZZO DI COZZO, Australia, 2021. Directed by Madeleine Martiniello. 85 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, drug references, sexual references and occasional coarse language)
Franco Cozzo is a Melbourne icon, a self-made man, seller of baroque-style furniture over many decades. Clearly, this is a film for Melburnians who are not as young as they used to be and who remember the flamboyant salesman from his television commercials. They may have forgotten a lot of the detail, but this documentary will revive the memories.
However, Palazzo Di Cozzo is not just for the inhabitants of Melbourne, rather it is extremely relevant for Australians. And it offers much of interest to international audiences.
Franco Cozzo’s story is almost an archetypal migrant story, with difficult beginnings, determination and enterprise, and ultimately success. And, since so many migrants came from Italy to Australia (as they formerly did to the United States), this is the study of the meaning of migration, what it meant for the migrants to adapt to their new country.
While Franco Cozzo, 83 at the time of making the film, 85 at the time of its release, is certainly at the centre (self-promotion his forte), there are also a number of talking heads discussing the immigration issues.
There are photos and footage from the past. And the filmmakers have been diligent in finding a great deal of film material from the 1940s and 1950s illustrating the arrival of migrants, their initial jobs, community support . . . This footage is creatively used in a significant part of the film where one of Cozzo’s sons goes to prison for drug dealing, and Cozzo falls under suspicion for involvement in drugs. There is a visual collage, extensive, illustrating the whispering, gossip, suspicion and accusations.
Franco’s life, marriage and children, separation and divorce, second marriage and children, his extraordinary success in business are all documented. The film includes visits to several homes, visual tours of houses to look at the furniture in situ.
But, we all, this reviewer included, remember the commercials. And they are repeated here – though initially he seems to be able to pronounce Footscray accurately enough but as time went on, there was the inserted that vowel sound (this reviewer remembering it as Foot-a-scray), seen on screen now many times as Footisgrai. Franco Cozzo so relished the ads in Italian, even extending some of them into Greek. And there was the continual reminder, genially urgent of the ‘Grand Sale’. And there he was on television shows, being interviewed by Don Lane and dramatising his sales pitch, his daughter appearing on Young Talent Time and a callout from Johnny Young.
While there is plenty of footage from the past, there is also plenty of footage of the man himself aged 80, still full of life, contemplating selling his Footisgrai store, discussions with agents, his changing his mind, reviewing all the furniture that is still there and probably unsellable (although there are some sequences with incoming Asian and African potential clients).
Australia has been called the lucky country – and, for Franco, for this migrant from Sicily, bringing out his parents, starting from scratch, Australia was lucky (but we must never underestimate Franco Cozzo and his business shrewdness, ingenuity and boundless energy).
Released 25 November