The flamboyant Italian opera and movie (the 1968 Romeo and Juliet) director has died at 96 after a long life of believing too much is never enough when it comes to making audiences happy.
Zeffirelli’s 1999 movie about his upbringing in 1930s Florence, Tea with Mussolini, is a fairly rare example of the genre of the autobiographical movie about Why I Turned Out Alright. Most artists want to tell you about why they are all messed up due to their childhoods, but Zeffirelli’s instead is about how, even though he had some bad luck starting out illegitimate, he went on to have a wonderful life due to some rich English (Maggie Smith) and American (Cher) expat ladies more or less adopting the charming little boy and introducing him to expensive pleasures like opera and Shakespeare:
I’m reminded of how different Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union were in the 1930s. You had to be an ideological true believer to move to the Soviet Union, and it might well cost you your life. Peacetime Nazi Germany was less lethal but was still unattractive to the global rich. But Mussolini’s Italy attracted quite a few people who could afford to live anywhere.