“Lazzaro! Lazzaro!” is heard echoing throughout the mountains in this supernatural fable set in rural Italy in Alice Rohrwacher’s newest feature, HAPPY AS LAZZARO (Lazzaro Felice).
We’re introduced to Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) on the Italian farm where his extended family as they work tirelessly to feed themselves, unaware that they are part of an illegal sharecropping arrangement. Lazzaro, a man so amiable that he’s often taken advantage of, strikes up an unlikely brotherhood with Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), the son of “Queen of Cigarettes”, Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi).
The tumbledown village of Inviolata, where hay from the harvest falls like snow, gives the film an almost timeless setting, only Tancredi’s contemporary paraphernalia gives us any real sense of when the film is set. Being shot on Super 16mm, lends an antiquated graininess to the film. Rohrwacher’s subtle but also at times sweeping and exaggerated style compliments the original narrative, from naturalism to mystical, allowing for deep contemplation as well as comic relief.
Tancredi and Lazzaro’s relationship is more like master and pet than what Tancredi describes as “half-brothers”. After a prank Tancredi plays on Marchesa goes awry, the film takes a substantial turn, narratively and aesthetically. The dust and hills of rural life are replaced by power stations and landmarks of the city as Lazzaro embarks on a road trip unlike any other.
Lazzaro is a marker for tradition and nostalgia, reminding those around him of what used to be. Rohrwacher takes influence from the likes of Ermanno Olmi, in her use of magical realism. Her earlier films (THE WONDERS (2017) CORPO CELEST (2011)) also deal with familial relationships as well as feelings surrounding both the comfortable and the unfamiliar.
At a substantial 125 minutes long, the film doesn’t suffer for its length. It’s initial relaxed pace quickens as the narrative tightens and Rohrwacher doesn’t let it lull. HAPPY AS LAZZARO is a conversation starter and successfully balances nuance and neo-realism with its thoughtful, comedic and magical lead.