Rating: 5 out of 5
Films of all lengths, genres and styles invite multiple interpretations. There probably exists an equal amount of literature on the structure of Citizen Kane as there is about the branching, convoluted paths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some films are great enough to resist conclusions, in the inevitably of being misunderstood they achieve an immortality in their elusive character, there existence will be a continued discussion long after the filmmakers who spawned them can contribute their opinion on it’s meaning, Alice Rohrwacher’s third movie, Happy as Lazzaro, is the first such film I have seen in a very long time. This is surely one of the best movies of the decade, at the very least the most impressive and individual. The control of 16mm is stunning, the handheld camerawork coupled with intimate, gentle close ups lend a sense of realism to the magical and whimsy to history. The lead performance by Andriano Tardiolo is remarkable, the humility of his eyes recall the spiritual purity of Balthazar, St. Francis, Noriko, Gelsomina, Jackie Coogan, Maria Falconetti, if there is a conduit into the veins of cinema it can be found in the gaze of its greatest performers, perhaps unwittingly he has joined them.
The most innovative trick this film has up its sleeve is the structure, which too spoil would be to ruin one of the great surprises of cinema in recent memory. The story follows Lazzaro and his family, a group of tobacco farmers, as their labor is exploited by wealthy sharecroppers. The son of the Marchesa, Tancredi (in his youth played by Agnese Graziani and the elder form by Tommaso Ragno), finds a kinship in Lazzaro, declaring that they are brothers. Tancredi then forms a plan to fake his kidnapping. Lazzaro agrees dues to his good nature which occasionally lends him an element of naïveté, but his heart remains pure and radiant. The strength of Tardiolo as Lazzaro cannot be overstated, he imbues him with gentleness and grace, there is an impossibility to his existence, such kindness and perfection surely cannot be contained in a world so cruel and unstable.
The landscapes, as if in response to Call Me By Your Name’s picture perfect vision of the Italian countryside, range from arid, dry, Southern Italian farmland to decaying industrial zones. In the spirit of Italian cinema Lazzaro taps into the realism of Rosellini and De Sica while retaining the wonder and idiosyncratic nature of a Fellini or Pasolini. This middle zone is where the film finds its strength and unique core, it’s a fantasy tethered together by the bounds of reality. The film’s tone for that reason remains stubbornly consistent throughout, if it wavered for just a moment the whole affair might crumble under the weight of self-acknowledgment. Like Lazzaro, part of the film’s charm is a smiley naïveté, it has nothing but the best intentions.
Happy as Lazzaro won best screenplay at Cannes last year, in addition to garnering a nomination for the Palme d’Or, and while Koreeda’s Shoplifters was incredible, Lazzaro probably deserved the win. This is a movie that will be lost, found and rediscovered for the next several decades, like all the best cinema. This is a movie that will convince a child to save their money for a film camera, and start them on a trail through film history. To think that this movie will be buried on Netflix, leaving its fate in the hands of a sprawl of content, all the better for this film to stand out amongst the noise.