Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice)
Happy as Lazzaro has a timeless quality. It’s effortlessly intelligent without the pretension – a difficult effect to achieve. Director Alice Rohrwacher, a rising talent, is careful and deliberate in her choices and they come together in this beautiful parabolic drama. Her film explores the concept of goodness and its place in our collective morality via the titular character and his experience in a world inherently fraught with deception. It’s a deeply philosophical feature that leaves the viewer with much to ponder, enduring in the back of our minds.
The picture’s protagonist loosely mirrors the biblical figure of Lazarus, a disciple of Jesus who was so loyal that upon his death that the Messiah performed a miracle and resurrected him. In this version, Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is the embodiment of goodness, but his kind nature is frequently taken advantage of. He befriends Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), the son of the Marchese (Nicoletta Braschi), who owns and illegally operates the sharecropping farm on which he and 53 others work. On the day the authorities discover the criminal operation and liberate the indentured servants, Lazzaro has a fatal fall, but is “resurrected” and comes to find that many years have passed. He’s saved because of his absolute moral purity, and one expects fortune to befall him at this point. But as the audience will come to learn, life is far more complex and far more unfair.
Religious symbolism is at work in this movie, big time. One could make the argument that religion exists to rationalise an incomprehensible existence and that one of the key tenements of faith is fairness: if you’re good, you will be saved. On the other hand, one has to account for the fact that sometimes the world isn’t fair, and this feature tells that story. Despite his ultimate honesty and his well-meaning motives, Lazzaro is never rewarded in a way commensurate with the viewer’s expectations. He is saved, but never prospers. The audience are forced to grapple with the idea that morality is something that’s not necessarily going to pay off in the end and that life can be cruel and unfair, but perhaps happiness comes in knowing that you were a good person. Maybe we should not act kindly for the reward, but just for the sake of it, in order to be one of the good ones in a world filled with evil.
Rohrwacher invites us to ponder this question. Happy as Lazzaro exercises an incredible amount of poise in its relatively still shots and calm pace, so much so that in a world that’s distracting and noisy and where people very rarely stop to think, the director gives us the time to examine and ponder what it all means.
Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Happy as Lazzaro here: