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Skewing an old joke into ‘if it’s baroque, don’t fix it’ is more apt than most when it comes to Sicilian homewares icon, Franco Cozzo. For decades, the Melbourne legend has filled television and the airwaves with his distinctive Italian accent, joyfully uttering his ultimate catch phrase ‘grand sale, grand sale, grand sale’, plus his proudly unique way of pronouncing ‘Footscray’. In Madeleine Martiniello’s life-affirming documentary, Palazzo Di Cozzo, Franco’s legacy, and the impact he has had on generations of European migrants and the grander Australian community at large, is given a tender and comedic exposé in an utterly joyous manner.
One of the joys of documentary filmmaking is the way the genre transports you into the lives of strangers, opening you up to a slice of the world that you didn’t know existed. Additionally, a great documentary has the power to ultimately leave you feeling like you’ve learned something about yourself in the process too. As a Perth-born Aussie, I lived far out of the market reach for Franco Cozzo’s impactful advertisements, missing a cultural landmark that clearly impacted Melbourne culture, and the Italian diaspora, in a way that enriched our diverse and proudly multicultural society.
Yet, having watched Palazzo Di Cozzo, and being invited into a world of cultural variance, I couldn’t help but recall the ultimate 90s Perth TV advertisement icon: Luigi, from WA Salvage; a figure who sits safely in the array of ‘only 90s kids will remember this’ Perth memes with his own iconic catch phrase filling the airwaves ‘we aint fancy, but we cheap’. But while Luigi and WA Salvage may have disappeared into the history of time, living on in the memories an ageing generation, Franco Cozzo’s legend endures through the ages, from his figurehead furniture stores, to his iconic, culture-enhancing advertisements, to his wall-busting smile and generosity, each standing as a testament to luxury furniture, Italian culture, and a changing society.
Franco is interviewed sitting on an ornate golden throne, draped in a glow of yellow paint, and swallowed in a cloud of cologne. He is a king in his own kingdom, surrounded by a self-made wealth, supported by a burgeoning family. Through archival footage, notably an exuberant interview on the Don Lane show, we see that time has not weathered Franco’s vitality and joy for life, Italian culture, furniture, and most importantly of all, his family. Sure, he may have more white hair, and a few more wrinkles, but his heart beats as the same Franco Cozzo who arrived in Australia, bright-eyed and full of motivation. It’s an infectious joy, rubbing off on fellow Melbournians, musicians, and artists alike, and ultimately rubbing off on the Palazzo Di Cozzo audience.
No greater is the realisation of the communal nature of cinema than in uproarious moments of delight, warmth, and compassion, as Franco dances with his daughter on her wedding day to a song written in his honour. In my second viewing, I watched Palazzo Di Cozzo in a stacked auditorium, delighting in the feeling of laughter rolling throughout the room, while also soaking in the warmth of culture being respected, elevated, and adored. In many ways, it felt like the buzzing feeling of a busy, bustling shopping centre, where the tangible feel of money being exchanged, and the excitement of buying something takes place. For want of a better term, given the era we’re currently in, it felt contagious.
While the exorbitant prices of Franco’s furniture might cause alarm (with most having a five digit figure attached), it’s the connection to home and heritage that has many Italian, Greek, and other European expats keen to have a Franco Cozzo adorned home. Martiniello takes us into the homes of some of Franco’s most dedicated customers, each of whom explain why they love the kind of ‘statement’ furniture that Franco sells. In isolation, the ornate couch or marble table might look garish, but in unison with its furniture brethren, there’s a harmony that simply makes the room sing like choral angels from above. Amplifying the importance of continued culture is the presence of siblings who stand in their parents home, holding a receipt from decades ago, showing at $17,000 price tag for furniture. The siblings talk about how their parents couldn’t afford a car, or luxury items, and lived an impoverished life, but if there was one thing the Italian expats needed to make their home feel like home, it was handmade, baroque, Franco Cozzo furniture.
There’s never a feeling of Franco fleecing a community hungry for their own culture, but if that thought even enters your mind, a quick trip to Italy to watch these glorious couches and tables being constructed shows you why they fetch such a high price tag. For some, the furniture may be as eccentric as the salesman himself, but there’s a warmth and humanity to each piece, crafted by hand, delicately structured out of glorious varieties of prestigious wood and materials. It is, quite simply, the most human furniture we have, and thanks to Martiniello’s direction, we understand why it’s the furniture for many.
Interspersed between scenes of Franco at work, his commercials, and interview footage, are shots of a magical gold and white Monopoly-esque map showing the outlay of the Melbourne suburbs, hinting at the wealth of Franco Cozzo furniture behind the closed doors of Footscray, North Melbourne, and beyond, while also echoing that glorious baroque style. With great pride and respect, Martiniello builds a grand story of luxury, embracing the values and importance of continued culture, and most pertinent to Australia as it stands today, Palazzo Di Cozzo shows the enduring importance and strength of our multicultural society as a whole.
As the interest in baroque furniture declines, so does the foot traffic for Franco’s landmark Footscray store. Instead of being a buzzing shop of potential, it becomes a weathered storage facility for almost $5 million worth of furniture. The life and vibrancy still exists, because Franco still exists. Palazzo Di Cozzo closes on a note of hope, with Franco vowing to continue on regardless of how many people want to buy his furniture. Whether his children continue his store after he is gone is unclear, but even if Franco Cozzo’s furniture stores follow in the footsteps of WA Salvage, at least we have this majestic, beautiful, and downright joyous documentary to help remind us all about the grand icon that is Franco Cozzo.
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