A candid chat with Melbourne’s clown prince of rococo furniture

14

FILM
PALAZZO DI COZZO ★★★★
PG, 85 minutes. In cinemas from November 25

Franco Cozzo greets the day in a cloud of aftershave and air freshener. It’s all part of the opulent atmosphere that he’s always tried to create for his customers.

Sadly, they have fallen away lately. Franco has sold his Brunswick store, Palazzo di Cozzo, known for equipping Australian houses with imported Italian furniture rich in carved, painted and gilded baroque flourishes, but at the age of 85, he remains radiantly ebullient. Silver-haired and as dapper as ever, he sees himself as the prince among the band of whitegoods and furnishings salesmen who spruiked their wares on screen during the first 40 years of Australian television.

Melbourne furniture icon Franco Cozzo.

Melbourne furniture icon Franco Cozzo.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Madeleine Martiniello, the director of this documentary, which works as both beguiling biopic and revealing social history, has long been fascinated by the flamboyance of his stores and more recently by his popularity on social media. Her film charts the rise and slow decline of his career from his arrival in Melbourne in 1956 at the age of 21.

Australian television was about to burst into being and he was soon to take advantage of it, with a spiel exuberantly delivered in his uniquely fractured Mediterranean English. Thanks to the city’s high concentration of Italian and Greek immigrants, it was to turn him into a peculiarly Melbourne institution peddling a popular brand of the traditional and the aspirational. His baroque and rococo copies harked back to the 17th and 18th centuries but the eye-popping effect of a house full of the stuff denoted a level of affluence which many of his customers were yet to achieve.

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We are treated to a tour of a house belonging to one of his longstanding customers. It boasts a riot of frills and fringes together with statuette or two in the classical style, and a gilded white grand piano begging for a visit from Liberace.

There are clips from Carosello, the Italian pop programme that Franco devised and sponsored, and, for the film’s interviews, he holds court in one of his elaborately upholstered armchairs to talk candidly about his life. Only when the conversation touches on his son’s conviction for dealing drugs from one of the Cozzo stores does he show a flash of annoyance. He even maintains his spirits during a rather melancholy walk through a stockroom packed with furniture shrouded in white paper.

Today’s potential Cozzo customers are Asian, African and Arabic migrants, which leaves him lamenting the fact that he doesn’t speak their languages. “All my Italians,” he says mournfully, “are in the cemetery”.

Then he rallies again, batting away any notion of retirement. “I’ll never play cards. I’m businessman.”