Happy as Lazzaro (2018): Alice Rohrwacher’s Magical Fable–Best Foreign Language Films

Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher continues to develop as a filmmaker and continues to surprise in choosing both subject matters and styles.

Her third feature, Happy as Lazzaro, world premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Fest in competition, where it won the Best Screenplay award. (The Jury president was Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett).

Rohrwacher showed promise with her very first film, the 2011 Corpo Celeste, centering on a teenager girl and her relationship to religion and Catholic faith.  Her sophomore effort, The Wonders (which also played at Cannes Fest) was an interesting chronicle of a Tuscan community, focusing on a family of beekeepers.  But in my view Happy as Lazzaro (the Italian title is Lazzaro Felice) is her richest and most fully realized movie.

On one level it’s a tale, made in the neo-realist tradition, of a simple and naïve young farmer, Lazzaro, about 20, who is incredibly optimistic about his life, such as it is, among sharecroppers in an isolated rural community.  (I don’t thing it’s a coincidence that the hero’s name has biblical connotation).

He is contrasted with Tancredi, a young man blessed with wild and fervid imagination.  Opposites attract, and the two strike an unexpected friendships from which both benefit–in different ways.

Over time, the two men face various obstacles together, which test their individual strength as well as their bond.  Turning point occurs when Tancredi makes his tracks lose in the city, and Lazzaro sets out to search for him.

What begins as a simple story turns out to be more complicated and multi-nuanced, due the director’s infusion of elements of magical realism, resulting in a film that also unfolds as a modern fable.

The character is naïve but not stupid, and the director, while critically realizing that most of Italy now is modern industrial society, with all the ills and problems that go with, still believes that there is room for generosity of spirit, kindness of heart, and above all, humanistic behavior.

It was one of the most original movies I saw in Cannes, one that transcends conventional genres and familiar expectations.

Running time: 127 minutes

You can stream the film on Netflix.