Happy as Lazzaro
2018 | Drama | In Italian with English subtitles | 130 minutes
Alfosino de Luna is the ruthless owner of a tobacco farm in the Italian town of Inviolata. She has 54 sharecroppers who are constantly in debt to her, so they receive no pay. They live in abject poverty. Lazzaro, a youthful worker on the farm, befriends Tancredi, son of Alfosina, and a farm manager. Tancredi is appalled by the exploitation of the workers, defies his mother, and fakes a kidnapping. Tancredii and Lazzaro hide out in the wilderness and write a ransom note. Lazzaro poses as the kidnapper. The police are called in to investigate. They discover that sharecropping is taking place, which has been illegal in Italy for some time. They also discover that the workers were not getting paid and the children were not being educated. The police evacuate Inviolata and arrest Alfosina. Lazzaro, still in the wilderness, falls of a cliff, and remains unconscious for several years. When he awakens, he finds that Inviolata has been deserted and Tancredi has lost his fortune as a result of his mother’s scandal. It’s up to Lazzaro to help bail out his friend.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 90%
- Metacritic Score: 86
Cannes Film Festival: Won for Best Screenplay (Alice Rohrwacher)
National Board of Review: Top Five Foreign-Language Films
Independent Spirit Awards: Best International Film
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Rohrwacher’s work unites a passionate interest in social realism, in the hardships faced by people on the streets and in the fields, with a daring refusal to be held by the rules of narrative realism.
The poor farming class in LAZZARO are shown as kind and honorable but also gullible and understandably uneducated. This might come across as somewhat condescending were it not for the fact that Rohrwacher portrays them with such warmth as to suggest that Italy should be ashamed for forgetting these people. Indeed, the message of her boundless, beautiful new film might be that Italy IS these people.
What makes HAPPY as LAZZARO a great movie—a film that acquires new depths of emotion and meaning each time you see it—is the piercing clarity of writer/director Alice Rohrwacher’s vision. The film’s only antidote to despair may be its own beauty. Its thrift and intelligence—the way Rohrwacher gleans treasures from the past and adapts them to new uses—nonetheless offer a measure of comfort. There is happiness in heartbreak, and vice versa.
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