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  Happy as Lazzaro Barely Getting By
Year: 2018
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Adriano Tardiolo, Agnese Graziani, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani, Tommaso Ragno, Sergi López, Natalino Balasso, Carlo Tamati, Pasqualina Scuncia, Nicoletta Braschi, Eduardo Montalto, Carlo Massmino, Maddalena Baiocco, Gala Othero Winter
Genre: Drama, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A few years ago, Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) was part of a sharecropping community in Italy, taking care of a tobacco plantation with his neighbours, all of whom were paid a pittance assuming they were paid at all. He would be given the jobs that the others did not want to do on account of his sweet nature, so benevolent and willing to help out that he was taken advantage of at every opportunity, but he did not mind too much as long as he felt he was doing the right thing. However, the introduction of Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), the son of the owner (Nicoletta Braschi), changes Lazzaro's existence in a profound manner, and all because he wanted to assist him getting a coffee...

Happy as Lazzaro, or Lazzaro Felice as it was known in its original Italian, was a self-confessed fable from writer and director Alice Rohrwacher, and from the beginning you could see a history of her country's filmmaking was informing every frame. A touch of Pier Paolo Pasolini here, some Federico Fellini there, how about a dash of Roberto Rossellini and of course we would not be without a slice of Lina Wertmuller, and so forth; she obviously knew her cinema and there were echoes of all sorts of neo-realism, satire and a more fantastical aspect which made itself apparent the further the story progressed. With that in mind, was there a problem with this actually being its own, singular entity?

Certainly it received no lack of acclaim, but the nagging feeling this was not as original as it appeared never quite left it for some viewers, not that this necessarily would be a drawback if Rohrwacher had something of her own voice to say with all this experience. To an extent, the social commentary was contemporary to the start of the twenty-first century, dealing as it did with the world of work and how it had not only been debased itself, but had also brought down the working classes and corrupted the upper classes to the point where they were both scrabbling around for any dignity at all, and in many cases had given up and resorted to cheating and victimisation to gain a foothold.

Heady stuff, but the director had a light touch and her cinematographer Hélène Louvart (operating with 16mm film) was able to craft a bucolic atmosphere for the first half and a harsh, unforgiving chill for the second without making the transition too jarring even if you did notice the difference once you realised what was going on. And what was going on? Well, after Lazzaro takes Tancredi to his refuge in the hills for that coffee, the rich heir decides he likes it there and demands the poor chap tell no one where he is, for he has concocted a scheme to fake his own kidnapping to get his hands on a portion of his mother's fortune. If Lazzaro blows it, then Tancredi will see to it that he will take the fall, but there's more to it than that, as the sharecroppers do not know sharecropping has been made illegal.

The point was, they were dirt poor but happy because they at least had a community and were provided for, after a fashion, by their corrupt boss. What this asks is, is that really any worse than the alternative, scraping by hand to mouth not in the fresh air of the countryside but in the choking milieu of the city where everyone has descended to a level of self-centred flouting of the law to suit themselves. Lazzaro, as the epitome of decency and looking out for his fellow man and woman, does not stand a chance in these conditions, which was presumably why he was portrayed as a man literally out of time, as unstuck as Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-5, as the film took on a fantastical appearance. If despair at the way the world is heading was your idea of a good time - and Rohrwacher laid it on very thick - then you would embrace this admittedly unusual method of making that commentary clear, but despite the decline it depicted, you wondered if the situation was ever as sunny in the past as assumed, caveats or no.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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