Review: Callas Forever

Like Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli identifies with women, but he doesn’t know how to tap into their souls, only their clothes.

Callas Forever
Photo: Regent Releasing

The cliché-ridden Callas Forever allows director Franco Zeffirelli to revisit a time period in the ‘70s when he was mounting super productions at Milan’s La Scala and New York’s Metropolitan Opera starring divas like Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. In this fictionalized film, a theater producer, Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons, a stand-in for the director), looks to bring Callas (Fanny Ardant) out of self-imposed retirement with a film version of Carmen. Though openly gay, the 80-year-old Zeffirelli has repeatedly drawn the ire of gay and lesbian groups for siding with the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality. The director’s sexual timorousness is all over his films, perhaps best embodied by Leonard Whiting’s infamous butt shot from 1968’s Romeo and Juliet: Zeffirelli loves pretty boys, but he lingers on his male actors with a sad reticence that points not to their frustrated sexual desires but to his own. In Callas Forever, Larry starts dating a gorgeous painter, Michael (Jay Rodan), he meets at the airport, but since the film is first and foremost an exercise in idol worship, Iron’s character and his relationship to the much younger man takes a superfluous backseat to Ardant’s diva antics. Zeffirelli dresses a scene better than he shoots it, which is surprising considering he worked with Luchino Visconti throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s as an assistant director. Like Visconti, Zeffirelli identifies with women, but he doesn’t know how to tap into their souls, only their clothes. Visconti’s Senso is a delirious experiment in high camp, a highly complex synthesis of raw emotion and formalist aesthetics—every color and movement in the film is an extension of a woman’s fractured being. In a way, Visconti’s films were extensions of his own complex sexual identity. The same is true of Zeffirelli, except his films aren’t enlivened but deadened by his real-life hang-ups. Consider the spectacle of the film’s film-within-a-film: all artifice, no emotion. It’s as if Zeffirelli himself wants nothing to do with the script’s mundane melodrama, anxiously but half-heartedly directing scenes until he can hide behind the closet door of the film’s gaudy Carmen scenes.

 Cast: Fanny Ardant, Jeremy Irons, Joan Plowright, Jay Rodan, Gabriel Garko, Manuel de Blas, Justino Díaz, Jean Dalric, Stephen Billington, Anna Lelio  Director: Franco Zeffirelli  Screenwriter: Martin Sherman, Franco Zeffirelli  Distributor: Regent Releasing  Running Time: 105 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2002  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Review: The Family Jewels

Next Story

Review: Kontroll