Films you can't miss: Happy as Lazzaro

Eva Mackevic

Give into the spellbinding world of Alice Rohrwacher's visually rich and intellectually satiating Happy as Lazzaro

If you happen to be a fan of Italian Neorealism in the likes of the Taviani brothers, Roberto Rossellini or Federico Fellini, you won’t want to miss this sublime little gem from director Alice Rohrwacher.

Steeped in classic Italian cinema tradition, this dreamy, enigmatic drama flirts with magic realism, set amongst rugged landscapes, inhabited by an ensemble of rich, full-bodied characters, imbued with emotional and intellectual complexity. 

The titular Lazzaro takes centre stage though. He’s a peculiar, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy living within a small community of tobacco farmers in the isolated village of Inviolata. Kind, patient and always there to help everyone at the drop of a hat, he tends to get taken advantage of. But, as we soon find out in a crazy twist, Lazzaro is far from the only person being exploited in Inviolata. The villagers’ serene, if monotonous life gets shaken up when the owner of the plantation, the wealthy tobacco baroness Alfonsina De Luna, comes to live on the farm with her sickly, erratic son, Tancredi.

In an unlikely turn of events, Tancredi and Lazzaro become friends—a relationship he values greatly and one that becomes the key motif in the much bleaker second half of the film—but to say anything more would be giving too much away.  

The film dresses gritty realism with sporadic sprinkles of magic, reminiscent of an old Brothers Grimm tale. Much of it is achieved through the stunning cinematography—soft, timeless and delicate, it’s hard to place in space and time, creating an atmospheric, magical eco-climate which you become one with as you sink deeper into the film.

"It’s an incredibly inventive, unreal story, brimming with allegories and symbolism, yet consuming in the most effortless way possible"

Once you process the initial bedazzlement with this visual feast, there are the stunning performances to admire—from the elusive Lazzaro played by Adriano Tardiolo with kindness and humility, to the eclectic ensemble of supporting characters, everyone delivers their performances with great attention to detail, bringing out their characters’ innermost dreams, ideals and desires to the surface.

Finally, there’s the brilliant writing which won Happy as Lazzaro the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. It’s an incredibly inventive, unreal story, brimming with allegories and symbolism, yet consuming in the most effortless way possible. Despite the film’s unconventional, freewheeling, sometimes very stretched-out narrative beat, you’ll be holding your breath in anticipation of what’s coming next because of the immediate emotional involvement in the lives of the colourful Inviolata dwellers.

It’s a beautifully evanescent piece of cinema that floats like a song or a poem, gently lulling you along the way.

Happy as Lazzaro is out in cinemas across the UK now