Slough Cooperative Film Society Slough Cooperative Film Society

The Society has been showing the best of world and independent cinema in Slough for 70 years

15th October 2019 DATCHET VILLAGE HALL

HAPPY AS LAZZARO (Lazzaro felice)

Italy/France/Switzerland/Germany 125 mins Cert. 12A

Lazzaro Adriano Tardiolo Director Alice Rohrwacher
Young Antonia Agnese Graziani Screenplay Alice Rohrwacher
Adult Antonia Alba Rohrwacher Cinematography Helene Louvart
Young Tancredi Luca Chikovani Editor Nelly Quettier
Adult Tancredi Tommaso Ragno Music Karol Mossakowski
Ultimo Sergi Lopez
Nicola Natalino Balasso
Carletto Carlo Tomati
Suora Pasqualina Scuncia
Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna Nicoletta Braschi

So beautifully made that it looks and feels like a timeless classic, complete with grainy 16mm imagery and rounded-off corners, this slice of magical realism from Italy carries provocative insight into the state of the world. It's a remarkable achievement, packed with intriguing ideas and a central story that's gripping and often darkly wrenching. And it's also a yearning cry for kindness and honesty in a corrupt world.

Happy as Lazzaro poster

In a cut-off corner of Italy at the end of the 20th century, an extended family is still living a feudal existence, exploited by the Marchesa and her husband as they try to keep their tobacco plantation running. Among the workers is Lazzaro, a guileless young man who helps everyone, often missing the cruel pranks that are played on him. He and the Marchesa's lonely, spoiled son Tancredi become unlikely friends, and Lazzaro haplessly goes along with Tancredi's silly plot to kidnap himself. But this ultimately changes everything about their lives.

After a series of heart-stopping events, the story leaps forward some 20 years to a big city, where these characters reconnect with each other and the world around them. The one consistent through both halves of the film is how Lazzaro's goodness is encircled by the petty criminality of the desperate poor and the callous cruelty of the church and state. Yes, these are potent themes, but writer-director Rohrwacher centres the story in engaging characters, which makes the film funny, scary, thrilling and darkly moving.

Tardiolo delivers an unearthly performance as Lazzaro, never overplaying his alien-like movement or wide-eyed emotions. His presence in each scene is almost unnervingly involving, as people continually ask him to do things for them, because they know he will. His generosity knows no bounds, and yet his motives are still suspect. The characters surrounding him are lively and memorable, including his "sister" Antonia and Chikovani's fantasist Tancredi (later Ragno).

Rohrwacher has created a vivid fable that merges a variety of storytelling styles, including a mash-up of Italian filmmaking from neorealism to Felliniesque flights of fancy. The plot cleverly blends historical events with issues that feel powerfully resonant today, using a variation on time-travel to explore how humanity simply swaps one kind of oppression for another. And yet the pure core of humanity is still there, reminding us that there is a better way to treat each other.

Rich Cline at www.shadowsonthewall.co.uk