Happy as Lazzaro

Alice Rohrwacher’s drama about a village of peasant farmers cut off from society spills from poetic realism to dreamy fantasy to tell a spellbinding story that’s a potent allegory for the pervasive evils of modern capitalism

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 26 Feb 2019
  • Happy as Lazzaro
Film title: Happy as Lazzaro
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Starring: Adriano Tardiolo, Luca Chikovani, Alba Rohrwacher, Agnese Graziani, Tommaso Ragno, Sergi Lopez, Natalino Balasso, Gala Othero Winter, David Bennent, Nicoletta Braschi
Release date: 5 Apr

On a sun-scorched Italian hillside, a community of peasant sharecroppers toil. One of them, the eponymous Lazzaro, a teenager with broad shoulders and an angelic face, toils more than most as his work-shy colleagues bark orders at him. But there’s nothing ironic about that title: Lazzaro accepts the lion’s share of the work with a smile.

Clothes and living conditions suggest we’re looking at a bygone era, but slowly it dawns on you that this isn’t once upon a time – although in many ways Alice Rohrwacher’s beguiling film is a fairytale. Recalling, of all things, M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, these farmers are ruled over by a tyrannical marchioness, who’s failed to inform her employees that this feudal system was outlawed years ago.

There are more surprises in store as Rohrwacher’s neorealist style takes a turn for the magical and events switch to a nearby industrial city where we find a similar cycle of hardscrabble survival. Lazzaro, serenely played by newcomer Adriano Tardiolo, survives the rupture, and in the urban environment his allegorical status is even more apparent. This is a thrilling, major work where the political and the poetic intertwine, and the collision makes both elements all the more powerful.

Happy as Lazzaro screens at Glasgow Film Festival, Fri 1 Mar, 1pm; Sat 2 Mar, 8.45pm, both screening at Glasgow Film Theatre