Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice)

9/01/2020 19:45.
Cert 12A

Rated as one of Sight&Sound’s best films of 2019, Happy as Lazzaro, from director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, 2014), weaves a tale about modern-day exploitation bordering on slavery, here set in a seemingly rural idyll on an Italian tobacco plantation. To amplify the reality of slavery down the ages, where the idyllic beauty of the fields masks a life of endless toil, Rohrwacher gives only hints as to the period wherein the story is set. Triggered by a few clues in the opening section of the film, it soon becomes clear that this is a modern story, where the unscrupulous aristocratic landowner, Marchese Alfonsina de Luna, has contrived to keep her workers in ignorance as indentured servants and prevent them from being able to escape from her feudal control.

Using elements of magical realism in the film, Rohrwacher’s true aim is to portray the strength of the human spirit in its pure form while being subjected to malign and cynical influences.  

Dir: Alice Rohrwacher, Italy, 120 mins, 2018

Programme Notes

Rated as one of Sight&Sound’s best films of 2019, Happy as Lazzaro, from director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, 2014), weaves a tale about modern-day exploitation bordering on slavery, here set in a seemingly rural idyll on an Italian tobacco plantation. To amplify the reality of slavery down the ages, where the beauty of the countryside masks a life of endless toil, Rohrwacher gives only hints as to the period wherein the story is set. Triggered by clues in the opening section of the film, it is clear that this is a modern story, where an unscrupulous aristocratic landowner, the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna, has contrived to keep her workers in ignorance as indentured servants and prevent them from being able to escape from her feudal control.

Some critics have expressed discomfort with the threading of a biblical narrative into the plot surrounding Lazzaro’s accidental demise and his mysterious re-incarnation, apparently unchanged, a decade later. Evoking this inexplicable miracle as the very centre of the film, Rohrwacher shows that, with her use of elements of magical realism, her true aim is to boldly portray the strength of the human spirit in a pure form, while being subjected to malign and cynical forces.

Acknowledgements: Geoff Andrew, Sight&Sound

“Happy as Lazzaro […] demonstrates the writer-director’s ability to combine, convincingly and charmingly, an aesthetic which is firmly in the tradition of neo-realism with elements of a peculiarly Italian fabulism”

Geoff Andrew, Sight&Sound