Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice, Italy-Switzerland-France-Germany, 2018)

Happy?

At its best the experience of film is magical. By this I don’t mean the fantastical special effects that have become so commonplace that they no longer thrill but rather the moments when the sum of a film’s parts suddenly become more as a whole. Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro is an example of this. The title, in English, seems to be based on the simile ‘happy as Larry’: this works in the sense that nothing gets Lazzaro down; he’s played with engaging blankness by debutant Adriano Tardiolo. He is a ‘simple’ ‘innocent’ who only want to please. I guess the name’s more likely reference is Lazarus for reasons I won’t divulge for fear of ‘spoiling’.

The first part of the film seems to be set in early 20th century rural Italy where sharecroppers eke out a meagre existence and use Lazzaro for the jobs they don’t want to do. Although they are exploitative, they do so with affection. The marquise, however, exploits with contempt and ensures the villagers remain in her debt. About half way through there is an abrupt change of tone that requires great confidence from a filmmaker to bring off; Rohrwacher succeeds.

The film is shot on Super 16mm in 1:1.63 ratio with the corners rounded giving an old fashioned feel to the look. The warmth of the rural environment is followed by the cold urban world of the city and at one level retains a social realist aesthetic narrating the lives of those ‘down at heel’. In one shocking sequence, migrant workers are seen outbidding one another for work: the lowest bid wins. Rohrwacher’s film is about exploitation in the ‘old world’ of Italy and in the new globalised world.

Social realism can, rightly, be grim but Happy as Lazzaro is leavened with humour and the ensemble cast, including Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s sister, are excellent; special mention must go to Sergi López who reminded me of Bob Hoskins in his prime. That said it isn’t a realist film so you will have to go see it to understand this contradiction.

Lazzaro is in a way he is like Voltaire’s Candide but he is not disillusioned when he enters the ‘real world’. Rather he retains his faith in humanity which, as Rohrwacher shows, is difficult in the face of exploitation but crucial if we are to retain our humanity. I need to catch up on her other films.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: