According to Johnathon Schaech, who acted in Zeffirelli's 1993 film Storia di una capinera (Sparrow), the director spent weeks persistently attempting to “seduce” him during the shoot in southern Italy, one night letting himself into the 22-year-old actor's hotel room.
In an account for People magazine, Schaech claims that there Zeffirelli groped him and attempted to perform oral sex without his consent.
Zeffirelli, who is 94, has not commented on the allegations but his son released a statement saying that they were not true.
Pippo Corsi Zeffirelli accused Schaech of mounting “a true and proper vendetta” against the director, who ended up getting another actor to dub Schaech's lines when his performance was marred by throat problems during the shoot.
Zeffirelli's son also dismissed Schaech's account of suffering psychological problems after the alleged assault, saying that the actor had chosen to keep in touch with the family occasionally over the years, most recently in December 2017.
It is not the first time that the Italian film industry has been caught up in the wave of allegations prompted by accounts of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Italian actress and director Asia Argento was one of the first women to publicly accuse producer Harvey Weinstein of misconduct, while ten women subsequently accused filmmaker Fausto Brizzi of harassment and assault. Another director, Giuseppe Tornatore, was accused of groping a female performer in his office.
All three men deny the allegations.
Meanwhile Italy's Silvio Berlusconi – the former prime minister once tried on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute – joined the backlash against the #MeToo movement encouraging women to denounce sexual impropriety, agreeing with French actress Catherine Deneuve that men should feel free to “court” women.
Zeffirelli, who turned to politics after his career in entertainment and represented Berlusconi's party in the senate, is now rarely seen in public. According to his son, the Oscar-winning director's health is too poor to allow him to answer or even understand Schaech's allegations.