Screenwriter holds up the mirror

Historical dramas suit David Franzoni very well indeed and, though his name may not be familiar to most of us, in Hollywood he is an established screenwriter of epic films, such as Steven Spielberg’s «Amistad,» Ridley Scott’s «Gladiator» – on which he was also a producer and which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2001 – and more recently, Antoine Fuqua’s «King Arthur,» which opens in theaters in Greece today. Franzoni’s next project is «Hannibal» (starring Vin Diesel as the Carthaginian general), while his dream for the future is to write and direct a film about Socrates. We met in London, where he was attending the European premiere of «King Arthur,» and he cast a different light on the legend of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere (the film stars Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd and Keira Knightley), demystifying the legend and placing it in a more solid historical and political context. Apart from his current work, Franzoni also spoke very warmly about his future Socrates project, which he wants to focus on the trial of the Greek philosopher. Would you say that there are modern references in the story of King Arthur? While I was developing the story and using the archaeological evidence that indicates the legend was based on facts, my main goal was to compose an ancient story that would resemble events in Vietnam. To me, the story’s heroes are like commandos, foreigners in a foreign land; they hate and are hated. How do you explain your obsession with historical dramas? For me and especially for my work in relation to the American public, it is like holding up a mirror and showing something of us, without, however making any direct references to us. For example, in «Gladiator,» I think the reference to our obsession with the industry of entertainment and how it cuts us off from the rest of the world was obvious. «King Arthur,» I believe, has to do with Vietnam. The references in the film may even make audiences think of Iraq, but that is not something I could have imagined while I was writing the screenplay. Did you have to make a lot of compromises to bring the project about? You always have to make compromises, on both a historical and an artistic level. I think the themes I chose originally were far more complex compared to how they were eventually portrayed in the film. But this has to do with the way the American film industry works. How do you explain the fact that the public is once more showing interest in such films, starting with «Gladiator»? The first reason is that a long time has passed since they were last produced by the studios – we went into space, into the oceans, we exhausted everything. Secondly, I don’t believe such films are outdated adventures about the past any more, they are about us. If kids who go to watch this film manage to read Vietnam between the lines, then we will have succeeded. Would you like to sit in the director’s chair? Yes, and I am seriously considering a project about the trial of Socrates. I am mostly interested in it because I can see America through the groundbreaking democracy of Athens. What similarities do you see? When Socrates was forced to commit suicide, it wasn’t the State that was accusing him. Every branch of society, from merchants to artists, wanted him dead. In the States today, everyone in theory has the right to express their opinion. What Athens had become – and what America will soon be – was a place where all opinions were equally right, which means chaos. Socrates was opposed to that and the others didn’t want him teaching the truth. When the State decides what the truth is, then there is a problem. That is where we are heading. When we vote for laws like the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, I get the shivers. What sources have you used? Do you make references to Plato? I am mostly interested in two characters around Socrates: One of them is Plato, who treats Socrates as a teacher and a god, and the other one is Xenophon, his wine-drinking friend. I think that the balance between those two is fascinating.

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