Alice Rohrwacher’s gentle domestic comedy, Happy as Lazzaro, is a hard film to define. It’s full of grim social realism, light conversational comedy, and surreal jumps in time that warp reality to make moral points. At the centre of all this is the dumbstruck innocent Lazzaro, a simple young man who is pulled every which way by the whims and impulses of those around him.
We begin on Lazzaro’s rural farm, an incongruous space that appears to be in the present, but finds his family working as unpaid sharecroppers for a local Marquise. As she explains, she exploits the farmers because they let her, and they exploit Lazzaro likewise. It’s a damning view of human nature and the current state of global capitalism, making the just-subtle-enough point that in most places workers’ rights are still stuck well in the past.
After a jump forward ten years in time – a convenient deus ex machina that ages everyone but Lazzaro – his family may have escaped their situation, but the market is as cruel as ever: poor workers desperately undercutting each other to harvest an olive field for loose change is proof of that.
Rohrwacher establishes this peaceful pastoral community with soft, rich visuals and a great ensemble dynamic that leaves the cast feeling like real family. Her sister Alba is the standout as the adult Antonia, and alongside Adriano Tardiolo as Lazzaro they represent the kind of purity and kindness Rohrwacher clearly idolises.
By detaching her story from the immediate present Rohrwacher makes a powerful point about the eternal struggle of the working classes in a similar way to recent films like Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay and Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights. This sweet, kind-hearted comedy runs a little long and lacks a little bite but still says a lot worth listening to.
CAST: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani, Alba Rohrwacher
DIRECTOR: Alice Rohrwacher
WRITER: Alice Rohrwacher
SYNOPSIS: This is the tale of a meeting between Lazzaro, a young peasant so good that he is often mistaken for simple-minded, and Tancredi, a young nobleman cursed by his imagination.