Happy as Lazzaro (2018)

There's nothing I have a prejudice against like I have for Italian cinema — dreadful acting, poor comedic skills, different and yet similar stories over and over again, dull direction, they can all be found in the majority of contemporary Italian films, and they always put me off watching films from my homeland. Lost among them all there's Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice), a film I ended up watching only because it was directed by a woman, Alice Rohrwacher; and it's a film I regret not seeing immediately after its release as it is a unique, mesmerizing and delightful film, as well as one of the most touching and yet heartbreaking and painful to watch I've ever seen. 

Set in an insular estate, the Inviolata, isolated since the 70s, the story follows several families of peasantries who work on a tobacco farm in a sharecropping arrangement, who are eternally in debt as they are exploited by the Marchioness Alfonsina De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi). There is a worker that stands out among them all, Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a young man whose sweet nature and foolishness is abused and exploited by everyone, townsfolk included.

Staying for the summer, the Marchioness brings along her son, Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), a city teenager who becomes increasingly bored and frustrated. The story takes a surprising turn when Tancredi befriends Lazzaro and, upon realising how easily Lazzaro can be manipulated, fakes his kidnapping to extort money from his mother and go back to the city. 

While it is not very clear where it is going at the beginning, the story flows beautifully and is compelling from the very first minute as we are introduced to the harsh and chaotic reality of these people, and becomes even more so as neo-realism meets magic realism, a mesmerizing and strange shift that is incredibly pleasurable to witness. 

With circumstances at the Inviolata being way worse than they seem, Happy as Lazzaro develops quite a powerful social commentary as we are faced with the atrocities and injustices we, humans, commit to each other on a daily basis. It's also a film thick with symbolism, the most prominent being Lazzaro who is the embodiment of innocence, goodness and authenticity before being tainted by corruption. 

Beautifully written and directed, the film is also beautiful to look at thanks to Hélène Louvart's terrific cinematography — the corners of the frame are vignetted like old photographs and evoke warmth and nostalgia; the lens brings both the ugliness and beauty of the community to life. 

There is something that stands out even more in Rohrwacher's film and that is Adriano Tardiolo's performance in the titular role. He quickly grabs our attention with his radiant, wide-open eyes, his disarming, sweet smile, and his angelic facial features and expressions, and, along with his charming screen presence, he makes his way into our hearts, all the while capturing Lazzaro's naivete to perfection. 

Ultimately, Happy as Lazzaro is a film that blends perfectly comedy and drama reality and fantasy — with funny moments spread throughout the film to distract from its harshness —, while portraying a young man who remains uncorrupted despite the chaotic world he finds himself into. It is a film that made me cry on several occasions and completely wrecked me with its ending, but I urge you to watch it because it really is worth seeing. 

1 comment :

  1. A real surprise!
    I'm happy (as Lazzaro) that you like it. :)