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The shipwreck suffered by Claudia Cardinale while filming “Leopard”

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A scene from “The Leopard” with Claudia Cardinale, Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon (ANSA/USA)

Francesco Piccolo tells it at the beginning of his new book, about the rivalry between the great directors Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini.

In the summer of 1962 two fantastic films were made: Tiger by Luchino Visconti e Half past eight by Federico Fellini. The two films shared an important translator, in addition to the filming period, since Claudia Cardinale starred in both, alternating between one set and another despite the rivalry between the great directors. To this relationship of hostility, which began at the Venice Film Festival in 1954, the writer Francesco Piccolo dedicated his new book entitled Beautiful mess It is published by Einaudi.

Piccolo is one of the writers who will take part in the imminent remake of Pensavo Peccioli, the cultural festival that is being hosted in the Tuscan village of Peccioli, in the province of Pisa, curated by Post Director, Luca Sofri, together with Peccioliper. institution. the program this year It is built around the aspiration to “understand what is happening to us and to the world”, thanks to the original views of the Italian cultural debate, both in the field of literature and in the field of fiction. Piccolo will talk about it Beautiful mess With Marino Sinibaldi on Saturday 18 March at 18:30: It is a look at a little-known story but full of characters, implications and interwoven events of Italian cultural history.

We publish the beginning of the book, which tells of an episode that took place at sea, in Sicily, and in which Cardinale and other persons participated in the production of the film. Ocelot: Shipwreck.


On a Sunday in mid-July 1962, a boat sailed from Villa Igea in Palermo with a few people on board. There is Claudia Cardinale and her American secretary Caroline Pfeiffer, producer Franco Cristaldi who is there with Claudia. There is Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Paolo Stoppa and Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, a distant cousin of Tomasi de Lampedusa whom he adopted before his death; And a few other people from the crew. It’s a day off from filming The Leopard, and some have decided to spend it like this: get on the boat, have lunch right at a fish restaurant, and calmly go back, enjoying the sea and the sun going down in the evening.

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In the late afternoon, they finish lunch at Mondello and return to the boat, which slowly starts out in the Palermo sea. They watch the sunset as they hear the water crashing against the beam. However, at some point, the engine fails. The fisherman who accompanies them is trying to do something, but he is in trouble. And someone realizes that they have some water at their feet; It seems strange. The fisherman, trying not to be alarmed, suggests throwing it away: perhaps there is a small leak. The attendants begin to remove the water from the boat to return it to the sea, by any means, with some amusement. An unexpected event makes that trip even more joyful. Just that the water that is expelled is less than the water that the leak allows.

And little by little the mood changes, they all begin to be silent and to throw up the water more quickly and more carefully. But the boat can’t leave again and the water is rising between our feet. slowly. I’m far from the coast, the sky is starting to get dark, it’s too late now, it’s time to go back, indeed we are already back. Instead they are there, still.

Someone says: I can’t swim. Another person says: I can’t swim either. We remain calm, then everyone will be reassured. But it’s getting dark. Kristaldi has a Rolex on his wrist, he takes it off and hands it to Soso and says take my watch, I’ll swim for help. The coast is far away, the sea is dark. Soso responds by extending a Rolex: Franco, don’t be rude, keep your watch and stay here. Claudia laughs at this scene, and the tension eases a bit. Krystal gives up. They all take refuge at the highest point of the boat to get away from the rising water. Then someone comes up with the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtaking off some clothes, a shirt, whatever you can take off, to make a kind of flag to hang up, so that a passing boat can see it. It’s a little cold now, in the middle of the sea and in the falling darkness, and the water covers my feet and even my legs a little. But clothing is restricted and the flag is displayed.

And after that they are silent and wait. Every now and then someone throws water, to give the impression of doing something more than of real benefit.

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Meanwhile, on earth, in the Villa Igiea where the actors spend the night, and in the castle which Luchino Visconti has rented for these months of sojourn in Palermo, they begin to worry. They did not arrive and did not see them coming. Someone decides to go to Mondello, others in front of the hotel waiting for the boat, with growing anxiety. If they stay too late in the dark of the sea they are unconscious. Or, which is feared to be an increasing possibility, something must have happened.

Among the travelers there is despondency, because the boat, albeit slowly, is sinking. It will take some time but it will eventually sink in, and we have to start figuring out how to do that. We still hope that the boat will come close to the shore before it disembarks, but no one knows how to act, and regretting this trip is useless.

The moment a motorboat passes by, you can catch a glimpse of it even if its lights are out as dusk turns towards darkness. Everyone waved their arms, but these others, even if they had passed so close and it was impossible that they had not seen them, decided to leave; This is the moment when despair sets in for the boat, because it is already too late, they are all scared and no longer see a way out.

Then something happens: the canoe driver has second thoughts and decides to get closer to the boat, to go to the rescue. So why did he go when he saw them? Because these are smugglers who transport illegal substances and have no intention of revealing themselves. But it is clear that the laws of the sea prevail and the steamboat approaches to save the boat plunged into darkness. their lights were put out, because they did not want anyone to see them from the coast; But just like that, without the lights, the boat can’t be seen clearly from the canoe, and the canoe is approaching quickly. also.

And in fact, those on board feel a heavy blow, because, incredibly, the steamboat rams the boat, not taking action and having limited visibility. Thus, the keel has been breached elsewhere, and water now invades it. Some fell from the shock, others threw themselves into the sea, and those who could not swim clung to the boat. There are cries and cries for help and pleas to stay calm. Those in a motorboat take everyone one by one, and, cold and frightened, lift them onto the boat.

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When they are all safe, crouching to protect themselves from the wind, the smugglers’ steamboat pulls off towards the shore.

The nightmare seems to be over. But not quite. As the smugglers slow down when they approach the coast, they say they have contraband on board and cannot risk it: they will try to get as close to the shore as possible, but shipwrecked people will have to swim to the last moment. . Those who cannot swim are very afraid, but it was decided that those who can swim will take charge of two people until there is a foot. It won’t be much, it will be easy, we can do it.

Engines off, Mondello beach nearby, maybe too close, but it’s there nonetheless. They go down into the water. Claudia Cardinale is a good swimmer, she takes care of her secretary and one other person. The beach is close, and maybe there is a foothold soon, but the problem is that people who can’t swim get scared, kick all the time, and Claudia makes a huge effort, gets pulled – just like the others he tried to help: Cristaldi, Suso and Paolo Stoppa.

Eventually, with effort and moments of fear, they touch. Here they are, coming out of the water. And they set off towards the road, wet and cold. But word spreads instantly, and the people from the production, already alerted, are rushing to get it.

This Sunday off filming, that day of entertainment on a boat in the Palermo summer, turned into a nightmare. Claudia Cardinale, Franco Cristaldi and anyone who knows how to swim is thanked by others as if they saved their lives. Perhaps they are exaggerating, but in fact, what happened will always be called by everyone: a shipwreck.

Adapted from Beautiful mess (Einaudi 2023), with permission from the publisher

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