Criterion Prediction #272: Happy As Lazzaro, by Alexander Miller
Title: Happy as Lazzaro aka Lazzaro Felice
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Agnese Graziani, Luca Chikovani, Sergi Lòpez, Tommaso Lopez
Synopsis: Our titular character is a pure-hearted but simple teen whose life is irreparably changed when he’s befriended by a marquise’s advantageous strongarm son.
Critique: Happy as Lazzaro (or Lazzaro Felice as we’ll be referring to it) is a film that seems to consciously exist in two worlds, the filmic urgency of the present and the sublime mythos of the past. And its contrasting aspects conjure the alchemical magic that is Rohrwacher’s 2018 feature. Lazzaro Felice has the dust-bitten, rusty realism that defines so much of classic Italian cinema. Non-condescending in its earthy provincialism, it draws classist lines without bombastic rhetoric.
And Rohrwacher is entirely in tune with filmic modernity. The camera is stealthily capable of getting into narrow fields, rocky crevices, and cloistered interiors just as its adept at soaking in the sunbaked vistas of mountains and landscapes. We can sail on the back of the oft-used drone shot, but the delicious grain of 16mm is always there to remind us just how valuable celluloid’s so-called middle child is really capable of pulling off. The cinematography of Hèlène Louvart is crisp, intimate, mobile, and, most importantly, doesn’t consciously pronounce itself. Lazzaro Felice rolls in the contrasting layers of contemporary vintage stylish confluence; it’s remarkably fluent and thus flatters the material. Louvart and Rohrwacher are harmoniously in tune. And it’s consistent with the rifts that course throughout; it’s a modern tale that feels antiquated by a timeless landscape. Its characters exist on both ends of the century, namely, Lazzaro has that tabula rasa effect, superseding that “noble simpleton” trope typified by Steinbeckian literature. Yet, we glean all manner of unmired variation thanks to Tardiolo’s stolid performance.
The casting of Tardiolo (his lone starring vehicle to date), alongside the casting of director Rohrwacher’s sister Alba in a lead role, recalls the homespun, familial style of Pasolini‘s early neorealist works such as Mamma Roma or Accattone. Yet Lazzaro Felice isn’t a callback but a subtly brilliant reinvention.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Regardless of Criterion’s alliance with Netflix, Lazzaro Felice is deserving of a spine number; however, with this distribution partnership, the inclusion of Rohrwacher’s film is a no-brainer.