Magazine article Screen International

'Happy as Lazzaro': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Happy as Lazzaro': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

Alice Rohrwacher’s follow-up to ‘The Wonders’ is a delirious brew

‘Happy As Lazarus’

Dir. Alice Rohrwacher. Italy/France/Germany/Switzerland. 2018. 126 mins.

Italian rural realism, with occasional magical inflexions, may have lost two of its great exponents recently in the form of Ermanno Olmi and Vittorio Taviani, but Alice Rohrwacher proved herself a worthy inheritor with second feature The Wonders in 2014. That film had its eccentric tendencies, but it looks like rigorous naturalism compared to the delirious brew of modernism, folktale and fabulist invention seen in Happy As Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice), which unravels with a Pinocchio-like logic that comes across as perplexing at first, then proves spellbinding.

A genuine UFO of a film that seems to come from another time and place, and certainly another imagination

Rohrwacher’s rising reputation, and the enduring art-house taste for Italian ruralism - which the film often confounds mischievously - should provide some international traction.

At first, we think we’re in familiar folkloric territory as a young man serenades his beloved in the countryside at night, with traditional bagpipe backing. The young lovebirds plight their troth, marsala is drunk, and so far we could be in the rural nineteenth century, or in one of those remote communities seen in any number of Italian films since Visconti’s La Terra Trema. Bit by bit, however, things become less clear: we’re definitely in the present day, as cellphones, headphones and hip-hop reveal, but these people are living in another era.

There are 26 inhabitants of various ages crammed into one house in a tiny village symbolically named Inviolata, amid a strange, quasi-lunar landscape of thistles and crags, all toiling to harvest tobacco for a haughty Marquesa (Nicoletta Braschi) who lives in a nearby mansion. It turns out that the families on her estate are essentially modern-day serfs or sharecroppers, forever in debt to their feudal exploiter, but blithely unaware of it.

Something of an outsider within the community is a gentle, childlike, otherworldly young man named Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), whom everyone fondly tolerates and occasionally exploits. …

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