Happy as Lazzaro
Stars: Adriano Tardiolo, Luca Chikovani, Alba Rohrwacher, Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi López
Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s third picture is a bewitching surrealist fable. The first half takes place in Inviolata, a small rural village that serves the neighbouring tobacco plantation presided over by the ‘Queen of Cigarettes’ Marchesa Alfonsino de Luna (Braschi). The surroundings resemble the middle ages, but as traces of modernity begin to seep in, it becomes clear the story is set somewhere in the 1980s. Lazzaro (the excellent Tardolio) is a cherubic-looking and naïve young man. His trusting and selfless nature attracts the attention of the Marchesa’s rebellious tearaway son Tancredi (Chikovani). Seeing how his mother is exploiting her workers by keeping them in a state of total ignorance of the outside world (this aspect of the story, unbelievably, is based on a real incident), Tancredi decides to stage his own kidnapping with the ever-amenable Lazarro a willing accomplice. In the picture’s second half, set some time later, Lazzaro attempts to reunite with Tancredi and his fellow villagers who have since relocated to the city. Beautifully photographed by Hélène Louvart in 16mm, particularly the tobacco-hued rural first half, this is an almost unquantifiably odd combination of documentary realism, magic realism, moral fable and folk tale, with the thematically rich script exploring the nature of innocence, via the titular holy fool, as well as the cyclical nature of exploitation. The oblique narrative and leisurely pace may not be to all tastes, but audiences willing to give it a go should be caught in its spell.