More noise than signal

Happy as Lazzaro

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

According to last year’s Cannes, this was 2018’s best screenplay, and had I known that before writing these notes perhaps that would have raised by expectations for a film I’d otherwise known little about. Or, well, given the usual taste of awards panels, perhaps it would substantially lower expectations. The point I’m driving at is that I didn’t have much of an idea about what Happy as Lazzaro was going into it, and having watched it, I’m not sure I’m any the wiser.

Our titular Lazzaro, Adriano Tardiolo, is a good-natured, compliant farmhand on an Italian tobacco farm which has been, through a route not made abundantly clear, been isolated from the rest of the world since, we later find out 1977. There Nicoletta Braschi’s hated Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna, the “Queen of Cigarettes” hold the farmworks in the serfdom of a sharecropping eternal debt, living cheek to jowl in overcrowded hovels while the Marchesa and her son, Luca Chikovani ‘s Marquis Tancredi live in luxury.

This comes to a head when Tancredi, in part tired of his life and in part ashamed of their exploitation of the workers, enlists Lazzaro’s help in faking his own kidnapping as the two strike up a friendship. The eventual police investigation brings this whole scam crashing down, by which point I sort of thought I had a grasp on it. The initial early doors weirdness of seeing characters in conditions from the 1670’s, with management having cars from the 1950’s, Tancredi having clothes from the 1980’s and mobile phones from the early 2000’s was just a clever ruse to put one off balance before this scam is revealed.

At which point there’s an interlude with a magic wolf that causes Lazzaro to skip forward in time, like, thirty years without ageing, who then tries to track down Tancredi and the rest of his family in a series of weird coincidences that don’t go well for anyone, and to my reading at least did not coalesce around any sort of point whatsoever.

Which is normally the cue for me to dust off the vitriol cannon, but for reasons I’m not completely clear on I quite liked Happy as Lazzaro. Adriano Tardiolo gives a likeable performance for an oddball character, that’s somewhere between Forrest Gump and Napoleon Dynamite, and plays well off both Luca Chikovani and Tommaso Ragno as the elder Tancredi incarnation.

While I can’t say I’ve grasped the point writer/director Alice Rohrwacher was trying to make, or indeed that I am particularly convinced there was a point to it all, I enjoyed watching it unfold, and that’s enough for me. I’ll take what I can get these days.