Happy as Lazzaro (4 stars)

Happy as Lazzaro

Gorgeous Italian fable from Alice Rohrwacher that blends reality and fantasy

The protagonist of Alice Rohrwacher's gorgeous Italian fable is too good for this world, so good, in fact, that he simply disappears at one point. The other characters whisper his name like he is some sort of mystical being and Adriano Tardiolo evokes such innocence and purity through his gentle performance as a peasant who is manipulated at the hands of a cruel employer that you can't help but feel protective of him.

Rohrwacher's previous feature The Wonders blended nature and fantastical elements, but never shifted its focus away from the perils of modern life and how they ooze their way into tranquil rural settings. In Happy as Lazzaro she again plays with reality but places her characters in a peculiar position with a resurrection of sorts. Around the midway point, it is revealed that Lazzaro and his close-knit band of colleagues have in fact been toiling as slaves and they are saved. When we meet them a decade later, they are still being exploited, but in an urban setting.

The first half of the film washes over you like a cool summer breeze, with Rohrwacher and cinematographer Hélène Louvart striking a beguiling tone through their alluring landscape shots. In the latter half, they take the viewer to cramped, dirty quarters in the city, where a glowing Lazzaro emphasises the ugliness of it all and the film makes its point quite clearly about morally corrupt practices and a complicit society.

The change in tone recalls how Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho used its settings to wheel its protagonists through multiple emotional states. Happy as Lazzaro is occasionally a little on the nose but, thanks to the empathetic depiction of its saintly lead and Rohrwacher's knack for depicting convincing and intimate communities, this journey through a broken economy is an emotionally engaging triumph.

Selected release from Fri 5 Apr.

Happy As Lazzaro

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Italy / Switzerland / France / Germany
  • 2h 5min
  • Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
  • Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani

Lazzaro (Tardiolo) is an innocent peasant manipulated by a cruel employer. Rohrwacher’s gorgeous Italian fable is sometimes a little on the nose but thanks to her knack for depicting intimate communities and Tardiolo’s gentle performance, it’s an emotionally engaging triumph.