Happy As Lazzaro review: Alice Rohrwacher’s latest competes in-competition in Cannes. The film could be the strongest work from the previous Grand Prix winner.

Happy As Lazzaro review by Paul Heath.

Happy As Lazzaro review
Happy As Lazzaro review

Happy As Lazzaro, Alice Rohrwacher‘s third feature begins in a small, rural Italian village named Inviolata. It’s the 1980s and we are amongst a group of workers who are witnessing a unification of two of their younger members – but this isn’t the main focus of this weird, though entirely engaging feature. That honour belongs to the Lazzaro (Adriano Tardioloof)of the title, a wide-eyed, put-upon young man who is used and mistreated by all and sundry – be it his family members, peers and fellow workers, or his boss – the so-called poison viper and extremely rich ‘Queen of Cigarettes’, Marquise Alfonsino de Kuna, and her son Tancredi (Luca Chikovani). The villagers serve the Marquise, and have done for years, but Lazzaro’s naivete and natural instinct to help sees him being asked to carry this, carry that, do this, do that, guard the chicken coop – lift grandma (!)… This makes up the majority of the first hour of the film, one drenched in the searing sun and sweeping vistas of rural Italy. Tancredi rebels against his mother, so jumps on the bandwagon to exploit Lazzaro to help him fake his own kidnapping. The two form a bond, Tancredi taking refuge in Lazzaro’s solitary haven high up in the hills.

It’s a film of two halves as an incident takes place around the hour mark, a major plot occurrence taking us on a very different journey, tone and time shifting into a superior second half.

Related: Climax review [Cannes]

Rohrwacher’s film, her third, is a spellbinding epic, one of that is both spiritual and ghostly, if not a little confusing, but the sooner that you get over the interesting development which progresses the narrative – we won’t reveal it here – the better. The filmmaker has your full investment by the time it comes big surprise that you’re willing to go with pretty much anything that follows.

The actors are indeed excellent, the newcomer Tardioloof a clear stand-out, his boyish, innocent portrayal of the saint-like title character superb. He carries the entire film, hypnotic in every scene, a character and a performance that has your complete empathy. He’s supported by a wondrous ensemble; Nicoletta Braschi superb as the exploiting ’employer’ Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna, while YouTube star Luca Chikovani also impresses as Tancredi.

But this is Rohrwacher’s shining moment, a film a clear hot contender for the Palme especially after her Grand Prix-winning The Wonders from a few years’ back. This is far superior – an absolute slow-burner, but that’s part of its charm. It will engross, delight and ultimate warm you – a rewarding piece of arthouse cinema which should light up festivals following its huge jump-start at Cannes.

Happy As Lazzaro review by Paul Heath, May 2018.

Happy As Lazzaro was reviewed at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

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Happy As Lazzaro