MIXING magic and realism, Italian director Alice Rohrwacher has created a modern fable of a man whose unwavering goodness contrasts starkly with the manipulative world around him.
A group of tobacco farmers live in close quarters in dry and dusty rural Italy, working the land owned by the Marchesa De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi) because they are told however hard they work, they are always in debt to her.
One worker is wide-eyed Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a good-natured guileless young man who obeys everything asked of him because he would never think not to.
The Marchesa’s son Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) is amused by Lazzaro’s obedience and when he decides to hide in the hills, he enlists Lazzaro to help him attempt to blackmail his mother, calling him his half-brother, which Lazzaro takes to heart.
Halfway through the film, the story jumps about 20 years on and some of the workers living in poverty in the city are astonished to find Lazzaro has not aged.
Lazzaro meets an older Tancredi who has fallen on hard times and the appearance of Lazzaro brings back memories.
At first, the era of the film is hard to place; a sense of timelessness helped by grainy pictures and rounded frame corners like an old photograph.
The appearance of mobile phones with pullout aerials and a Walkman are the only clues this is at least the twentieth century.
The workers live in a feudal system that traps them in place and almost time.
When some of them eventually escape to the city, they too become ensnared by an equally inequitable society.
The summer heat of the first half of the film borders on idyllic, while the cold and harsh winter of the second half emphasises that modernity does not always equal social progress.
What remains consistent is the strength of the family as they stick together and take care of each other.
A quiet and atmospheric film, Happy as Lazzaro gets away with its magical middle twist by providing realistic and heartfelt performances that make you care about the characters and keep you engaged in its world.
Happy as Lazzaro (M)
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
Starring: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani
Review by: Lucy Rutherford
Showing at UWA Somerville, February 25 – March 3, and ECU Joondalup Pines, March 5 – 10