Original Name: Lazzaro Felice
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Runtime: 130 minutes
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6752992/
Alice Rohrwacher raises a bar again with her third feature, Happy as Lazzaro, which is often considered as a fable with a touch of magical realism. As a person who have watched all her films (well, she has only made 3 features), I still can’t quite put my finger on how she’d progress. Her style consistently draw her in, yet her features always feel loose in shape that it threatened to fall off the ground at any moment. They feel as if you’re touching a balloon of air that can bend in shape wherever you touch. But somehow they always hold up. Happy as Lazzaro is her loosest film in term of narrative, as well as her best film so far. It’s one of those films that are best to experience without any prior knowledge, so I’ll keep the plot summary in bare minimum.
The first half has a docudrama look on the rural life of people in the small village of Inviolata as we see them work their bones to the cigarette field. Among them is the titular Lazzaro (first timer Adriano Tardiolo), who never seems to mind to be bossed around by the villagers. He makes friend with rebellious marquist Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), whose mother “owns” the land, and he’s close to Antonia who is a housemaid for the Marquis. In the second half, however, the story takes a complete turn to the present day that for me help enriches the narrative. That’s all you need to know about the story. Like in The Wonders, Rohrwacher has a knack of portrayal of a rural life pressured by the weight of modernity. In her second film it’s the contrast between the family’s condition with the lavish, over-the-top manner of the . In Happy as Lazzaro, it’s the timelessness that counts. The town’s rural life bring the impression of the 50s, 60s until you see a flip phone, a car or helicopter passed by. People in the film perceive time differently, as if for them time has cease to move on.
It is especially true for Lazzaro, who remains unchanged by the ever-changing of the environment around him, who remains the same age even his friends has grown old. The magical touch here is nothing but a stroke of genius. We don’t know how much time has gone. We do know that it doesn’t matter anyway as Lazzaro remains the same, it’s the world around him that speed up quickly. The film frames him as an holy figure whose naive, innocent air carries an otherworldly power. He who remains so pure that this world doesn’t deserve him. He’s the constant reflection of how petty us human can sometimes be. In one of the earlier scene, one character remarks how the townspeople constantly pick on him is another cycle of cruelness from them being exploit. In many sequences, his innocence (or should I put it, his dignity) brings shame towards his friends who steal and sham to make ends meet. The magical realism remains whimsical at times, but underneath it, it’s a sad portrayal of a community who can’t seem to adapt to the modernity, and thus, are left behind by the present time.
These two half is linked by the parable of the wolf and the Saint, to a lesser degree of success. On one hand, the tale adds the lyrical context to the film, and these strange-but-totally fitting wolf image is amongst Rohrwacher’s most cinematic moments. That plot thread, on the other hand, can feel heavy-handed at times and it brings up a bit too obvious message that goes against the more surrealist moments of the film. This film isn’t meant to be taken literally, after all. It’s that strangeness, without any dash of sentimentality, makes Happy as Lazzaro a compelling and rich film from start to finish.