HAPPY AS LAZZARO
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
Written by: Alice Rohrwacher
Featuring: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani, Tommaso Ragno, Sergi López, Nicoletta Braschi, Natalino Balasso
Lazzaro lives in Inviolata a rural village isolated from the rest of Italy by a flood and therefore, somehow, allowing the tobacco farming family matriarch Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna to keep the entire population in poverty, uneducated and unpaid as sharecroppers, illegally. Whilst the Marchesa exploits the workers, they in turn exploit Lazzaro but he lets it all fly over his head as he helps anyone and everyone. Tancredi the Marchesa’s son asks Lazzaro for his help which includes orchestrating his own kidnap, this in turn leads to a turn of events that sees the entire village relocated to the nearby city and all that the modern world entails.
Happy as Lazzaro is a long film and seems to be two films with the same characters bolted together. The first half seems to be a throwback, a story of exploited workers being preyed upon by the uncaring wealthy. Will they turn on their oppressor, what will become of them all? Fairly straightforward, Lazzaro is the innocent within the tale. He shows no anger or enjoyment but just wants to help as much as he can. He is almost a blank canvas that the other characters bounce off. Which makes the plaudits piled on Adriano Tardiolo a bit odd. He really does not have to do anything but stand and answer questions and run about for people, showing no emotions.
The cinematography is beautiful with some lovely Italian rural locations [Bagnoregio, Viterbo, Lazio] I could almost feel the heat coming through my ‘Big TV’ screen as I watched Lazzaro traipsing about.
Despite the story seemingly being odd but straightforward, the longer we travel down the path laid out for us the more magical or mystical it becomes.
The message through director Rohrwacher’s symbolism seems to be that exploitation is all around in the world and unquestioning kindness and help make little difference. The sharecroppers are exploited by the Marchesa and unhappy in Inviolata but when they are saved by the police and local authorities and taken to live in the ‘city’ they are uncared for, poor and exploited by others forcing them to resort to crime.
Only Lazzaro stays the same, morally, and literally, despite the intervening years. A big old metaphor I am guessing.
Despite the length of the film, over two hours, if you can pace yourself in step with the film it actually does not drag too much, the rural first part could be trimmed slightly as even the dimmest audience member would soon notice what the situation in Inviolata was. We get many scenes and set pieces of Lazzaro being humiliated or forced to work hard. The point is driven home.
The second half of the film, in the unnamed Italian city, drifts into fantasy or the magical realm as the inhabitants of Inviolata have aged over the years but Lazzaro has not, he is exactly the same. No answers are given, particularly for the ending, which to my way of thinking seemed as if the makers just got bored and stopped at end of that afternoon’s filming and said, ‘Nah that’s it, we’re done.’ Others will see it differently.
Happy as Lazzaro is a beautiful shot, evocative film, with a mystical and magical tone. Sometimes these types of films can be trite a bit long-winded or confusing, so it is to director/writer Alice Rohrwacher’s credit that my attention did not wander and I was engaged in the adventures until the end.
What it was all about is most definitely up to each individual, some people will love this, others will think is boring silliness. I liked it but perhaps it is not as profound as it believes.