It’s The Old World Charm And Simplicity Of Happy As Lazzaro That Wins You Over

Abhishek Srivastava - 79 weeks ago

Happy as Lazzaro by Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher is a slow burner that slowly sucks you in. The winner of Best Screenplay Award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival deserves every ounce the praise. The simplistically grounded plot of Happy as Lazzaro with no frills attached is arresting in its roughly two-hour duration. It’s a film where imagination and reality go hand in hand.

It’s a pity that Italy considered Dogman a worthy film to supersede Happy as Lazzaro when it came to foreign language Oscar nomination submission. Director Alice Rohrwacher has sketched the charatcers in her film that at best could be described as utopian but the world they inhabit in is real and brutal. It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Adriano Tardiolo as Lazzaro who signifies the simplicity and honesty that the world is bereft of these days. 

(A still from Happy as Lazzaro (Image courtesy - MovieStillsDB)

The happenings in Happy as Lazzaro are centered around a tobacco plantation farm owned by the domineering Alfonsina de Luna, the cigarette tycoon. The plantation workers have no connection with the outside civilization and the group of 40 odd workers and their families are content with their lives and are resigned to the fact that their bondage to debt is integral to their lives. A chance meeting with Tancredi, son of the queen of cigarettes, is a revelation for Lazzaro, a simpleton. The odd alliance that brings the two souls together, is of great value to Lazzaro who travels time in search of his dear friend. During his search when he is exposed to city life for the first time, the dichotomy between modern world and past comes to the fore. 

Alice Rohrwacher through her direction has personified most of the elements of the film and one only has to be conscious enough to piece together the puzzles. It's intriguing to note that Alice grew up in Fiesole where she had no access either to cinema or to television. One can only assume that the purity that’s reflected in her cinema has its rooting in her background. Happy as Lazzaro comes as a whiff of fresh air in the era of Marvel and DC characters. It’s a pity that there aren’t many takers for such films. In an interview to the Filmmaker magazine, Alice had remarked that “As I am born in the 20th century, my dream was to build a world that came from another century and collapsed and then went to the new century where we are living now – not to see what happened, but to see that humans stay the same.” 

(Director Alice Rohrwacher with the cast of Happy as Lazzaro at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival (Image Courtesy - Cannes Film Festival)

Lazzaro in the film personifies all the goodness that the world, we are living in currently, does not deserve. The purity in him is that of a child who remains unfit in the world of grown up adults. The sequence when Lazzaro cuts his own hand to ensure authenticity to the letter that Tancredi sends to his mother or when he assists the thieves who had come to rob the house of the queen or cigarettes or even when he meets Tancredi after years – they all have an innocence which is so rare today and one can’t help but instantly fall in love with it. 

The casting of the film that mostly comprises of non-actors, too has been aced by Alice. The search for Lazzaro took Alice to a school of land surveyors and when the offer to be the lead in the film was extended to Adriano Tardiolo, it was met with a polite thank you with a remark that he can extend the same to his friend. In the end, Happy as Lazzaro comes across as a heartbreaking film which was inevitable given the persona of Lazzaro. It’s all too good to last. Even after winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival, its survival happened mainly through film festivals, till Netflix came to its rescue. Why the film failed to find any distributor will remain an enigma. Happy as Lazzaro is a piece of art where every element has been aptly placed after careful selection. Relish and savor the simplicity of Lazzaro because such films happen once in a while.


Alice Rohrwacher / Adriano Tardiolo / Cannes Film Festival / Dogman

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

Sign up to get access to the stories behind films and conversations on cinema worldwide.