Happy As Lazzaro

An odd yet beautiful film. However, its morality play center and rambling narrative diminishes the film’s quirkiness

The first act of the Italian film Happy As Lazzaro focuses on naïve, worker-bee Lazzaro, an all-around good-guy who’s as gullible as Charlie Brown. He, along with his fellow working community, is exploited by a tobacco heiress as unwitting sharecroppers. Unfortunately, further references to Steve Martin’s The Jerk stop there. Lazzaro falls into a unique, albeit one-sided, friendship with the heiress’ son, Tancredi, Tancredi, of course, is a bored dreamer who has everything; Lazzaro’s a dreamer of the opposite order. While lyrics from folk-rockers Moxy Fruvous’ “King of Spain” might come to mind, a song detailing the switching of identity to alter responsibilities, writer/director Alice Rohrwacher sings a decidedly different art house tune. The film changes tactics and shows a displaced Lazzaro alone in the big city, still trying to appease friends and foes alike with disastrous effects. Good grief.

Happy As Lazzaro is gorgeously shot on super 16mm film, which feels like a special treat from 1989. Rohrwacher keeps her dialogue at a minimum trusting Adriano Tardiolo’s eyes and body language as the storyteller. The trade off is the loose story wanders as easily as Lazzaro’s daydreams. Lazzaro is a likeable round character, yet as the story grows in complexity, he retreats in his innocence. Rohrwacher no doubt deliberately creates this conflict as her morality play grows into a fable, but the ultimate treatment of the character is as unfulfilling as it is sermonizing.

Lazzaro is the analogous common worker, never rewarded for his efforts. He is used, removed, and replaced as often as this tale’s format. To tally the scores once again, the 1% have 100, the Dreamers, 0. Maybe nothing has changed since 1989.

Lazzaro may remain happy, but viewers might rather indulge in the Italian scenery.

A version of this review can be found on imdb.com

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