Happy as Lazzaro review Adriano Tardiolo Alba RohrwacherYear: 2018
Director(s): Alice Rohrwacher
Writer(s): Alice Rohrwacher
Region of Origin: Italy
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Rating: PG-13
Super 16, Color, 125 mins

Synopsis: A young peasant’s life is changed after he befriends a young nobleman. (Source)

In a world where too many films feel the same and succumb to oversimplified sentiment, Happy As Lazzaro is a blinding light of originality. Alice Rohrwacher’s film is as inexplicable as it is delightful, offering up an increasingly surreal fable that feels untethered to everything we’ve come to expect. It’s focus is also in relationships that transcend time and space as we know it. To say more would ruin the surprise, but Rohrwacher has pulled off a literally miraculous feat. Her latest feels keenly rooted in the humanity we take for granted, exploring unsaid relationships with nature, fate and a humanity that slips through the cracks of modernity. Buoyed by the delicate sincerity of star Adriano Tardiolo, Rohrwacher has created a new classic. This is the type of film that makes us reevaluate the world around us. It’s brimming with magic, tragedy and everything that makes these opposites inextricable.

Somewhere in southern Italy, is the massive Invoiolata estate. Owned by the wealthy Marquise de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi), her land is untouched by city life, offering scenic rural vistas that stretch in every direction. Here, the Marquise’s famous tobacco kingdom flourishes, but at a cost unknown to the outside world. Her wealth is cultivated by a large number of sharecroppers, all forced to survive within confined means and living a simple life devoted to their work. They are happy with their lot, unbeknownst to the true nature of their service. Amongst these, is a young boy named Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo). Lazzaro is kind-hearted, a truly good person who puts others before himself. One day, he encounters the Marquise’s son, Tancredi (Luca Chikovani). The two quickly form a deep bond that changes everything around them.

It’s difficult to really talk about what makes Rohrwacher’s film special without giving away it’s beguiling mysteries. The beauty of the film is how it constantly evolves before our very eyes, going from snapshot of rural life, to buddy picture, thriller, and then, something else entirely. Through it all, Rohrwacher paints a keen photo of impoverished living and an optimism that views disadvantage as blessing. Rohrwacher attacks her subject matter with grace and empathy, but never looks down on her characters. This gives way to a dissection on the nature of good and its relationship with a world that doesn’t know what to do with it. With an intimate portrait of displaced characters and emotions at the fore, Rohrwacher transforms the mundane into magic. The end result questions where common decency and mercy have gone, but is also a poignant tribute to the kindness hidden deep within.

Happy as Lazzaro review Adriano Tardiolo Tommaso RagnoRohrwacher’s big ideas are matched by an ensemble of affecting performances. Above all, Tardiolo’s Lazzaro is the film’s anchor. He’s an embodiment of the story’s intangible ideas and an absolute goodness that we rarely see. The world around Lazzaro is complex and hard to pin down, but his nature to please and never let anyone down is simple and impossible to ignore. Tardiolo inhabits the role with sincerity, and without him, the film couldn’t exist. Without giving too much away, Alba Rohrwacher, Tommaso Ragno, Luca Chikovani and a host of others add to the film’s realism and communal relationships. The film feels lived in because of some casting trickery and the genuine chemistry between everyone involved.

Happy as Lazzaro cements Rohrwacher as an artist who sees the world in a way that very few do. Her latest is a defining film full of magic, saints, sinners slaves and hustlers. What’s more, it captures the fleeting nature of existence, the cycles inherent to our lives and the grace that comes from where we least expect. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s an audacious work of art that’s wholly affecting and undeniably beautiful. With it’s sun-kissed visuals and haunting performances, Rohrwacher’s latest stops us in our tracks. This is a profoundly inexplicable experience and a celebration of the acts of kindness and cruelty that will outlive us all.

SG