Marcello Mastroianni and the watermelon battle in Odessa

A funny episode of the visit of the famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, during the Odessa film festival “Golden Duke” in 1988.

There is a holy ritual at cinema festivals: the press conference. Journalists are indispensable to write about the event and the stars. Of course, the Odessa Film Festival organisers’ wanted to meet the press in an informal way, with a nice complimentary buffet.

The organising team had a great idea: to offer their guests, mostly from Moscow, some typical southern fruits, like fresh watermelons. After all, it was September. It is worth mentioning that, in Soviet Union times, many fresh products were not easy to find, except for the port city of Odessa.

Therefore, a big quantity of watermelons was bought for the reception. To avoid spending every day at Privoz market, it was bought a single large stock, in order to cover all eight days of the festival and any unpredictable event.

The conference hall of the Odessa Polytechnic University, where the reception took place, became a sort of store full of watermelons. The press arrived and the assault began. This was probably the most eccentric press conference of cinema’s history. The entire press delegation of the Soviet Union did not stop eating eagerly for even a moment.

Moreover, if at first the Festival’s organisers were curious to find out where the journalists came from, then they soon realized that it was embarrassing to ask such a question. It was clear that all those people came from a hungry land. In ten minutes roughly the respected guests were able to eat everything that was on the tables and also everything that was stored for all the following days. After that, the press got up, apologized and rushed away. It turns out that they were in a hurry for the following lunch.

Marcello Mastroianni

Special foreign guest of the Film Festival was the Italian celebrity Marcello Mastroianni, main character of the film “Oci Ciornie”. He was patronized by the famous Russian actor Nikita Mikhalkov, who was the director of the movie. The two gentlemen came to the press meeting with a slight aristocratic delay, because they drove in an open car and Odessites stopped the car on every corner to ask Mikhalkov for autographs.

But when they entered the conference room, they found an upsetting scene: a sort of battlefield covered by bleeding watermelons’ crusts. Unexpectedly, Mastroianni sat at the head of the table and asked a photographer in a weak voice: “Take a picture of me, Signora!”

The photographer had an instant camera. Buzzing a minute, he spat out a photograph: the glory of the Italian Cinema standing above the table, with its surface completely strewn with blood-red watermelon peels. Mastroianni expertly examined the photo and graciously permitted the Signora: “You can publish it. Only, the subtitle should be like this”:

This was all eaten by Marcello Mastroianni. Madonna, save him!

It was a gesture of a great showman. He could be deprived of his portion of watermelon, but not deprived of his sense of humour.