Happy As Lazzaro
Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani, Nicoletta Braschi
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An exceptional film that constantly surprises, Happy as Lazzaro melds reality and myth, sound and vision, to create a wonderful feast for the senses.
A fantastical magical-realist fable, Alice Rohrwacher’s beautifully crafted film is a time-spanning allegorical study of class and social-structures. Awarded the Best Screenplay award at Cannes last year, the film fixes a studied gaze at the workings of exploitation, immigration and work.
Drawing on a wide template of influences, with echoes of Pasolini and Fellini sounding out amidst the exquisitely designed imagery, the film impacts upon the consciousness like a haunting dream. It’s a picture that wraps its mysterious arms around an audience, revealing long-held secrets and memories.
In the bright Italian summer at remote rural estate Inviolata, honest and hard working Lazzaro (a mesmerising debut from Adriano Tardiolo) is both taken advantage of and relied upon. Ordered this way and that, and living in a tightly controlled world ruled over by the Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi), he never once complains, displaying a beatific, saint-like disposition to whatever is demanded of him.
Lazzaro has a sweet, guileless innocence about him, and has the tenancy to drift off at times, making it seem as though he is not wholly present. Early in the film, one of the townsfolk remarks on this and observes that he has been ‘staring into the void again.’
Given what happens later, with the stepping over into the future or possibly a different timeline, this sense of being caught between two worlds (and under la luna, the moon) makes Lazzaro more of a mystic or a seer.
Into this innocent world of hard work and the cycles of life steps Tancredi (Luca Chikovi), the marchesa’s rebellious and arrogant son. He sets about using Lazzaro as a way to make extra money, by invoking another well known story, the boy who cried wolf.
The interplay between these two forms another layer to the film, with the boisterous Tancredi offering Lazzaro a different view of the world, and ultimately bringing him into a completely different environment. Propelled by Tancredi’s ruinous, greedy plans, the boy suffers an accidental fall from a cliff-edge and, after being looked after by a far more dependable companion lone wolf, wakes up in a different world.
He then makes the long march from countryside to city, dramatically constructed to resemble a pilgrimage or a monastic walk of penitence for imaginary sins. For Lazzaro’s essential goodness is never in doubt, even in a turbulent world where people and things take on different appearances and roles.
All of this plays into Rohrwacher’s captivating artistry that draws out the ethereal and timeless imaginings of communities across the world, with a specific Italian sense of family and generational concerns. An exceptional film that constantly surprises, Happy as Lazzaro melds reality and myth, sound and vision, to create a wonderful feast for the senses.