Starring: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Nicoletta Braschi
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Running Time: 127 mins
Happy As Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice) is an Italian film about a kind-hearted young man living with his poor family who suffer under the exploitation of a family of rich landowners.
There’s no denying that Happy As Lazzaro tells its story in a unique way, cleverly blending gritty, realist drama with elements of magical realism, pure fantasy and the odd bit of dark comedy. However, as original and unorthodox as it may be, it’s not a film that ever hit home for me in the way that it really tries to.
Of course, the film doesn’t always have to be an emotionally enthralling watch to be good, and it certainly stands out with its unique style, not to mention two very strong lead performances from Adriano Tardiolo and Alba Rohrwacher, who bring an element of both sweet, heartfelt emotion and darkly tragic drama to the table.
However, Happy As Lazzaro is a film that leaves a lot of its core emotion and message left to interpretation. On face value, it’s a rather gritty look at the lives of Italian peasants in both an agrarian and urban context, pitting their honest, hard-working values against the exploitative and selfish attitudes of landowners and those of a higher class.
From that perspective, you can watch Happy As Lazzaro as a gritty realist drama, with a strong social context that, while perfectly worthy, doesn’t always hit home with the passion with which the film delivers some of its more unorthodox elements.
Speaking of those stranger parts of the film, there are elements of Happy As Lazzaro that you could describe as surrealist, dark comedy, with the misadventures of the eternally kind-hearted Lazzaro demonstrating the strange and often cruel nature of the world we live in.
Other parts of the movie, however, are purely fantastical, bringing in a style of magical realism that contrasts the difficulties and misfortunes of our main characters with an almost religious look at how an earnest, purely kind attitude can save an entire life.
In that, we see the gradually deteriorating existence of Lazzaro’s family contrasted heavily with his continued good health, a result of his almost saintly positivity. It’s a strange part of the movie, but it’s also the strongest, as we see Lazzaro in the same capacity as a biblical figure, a saint who remains positive and earnest in all situations, rather reminiscent of the saintly donkey from Au Hasard Balthazar.
As a result, you can see that there’s a lot to unpack from Happy As Lazzaro, and its unique and often unorthodox style is commendable. However, with all of that going on, there are times where I felt its simpler, yet perhaps more important emotional messages were lost, and despite an earnest and pointed look at themes of saintliness, a good work ethic and exploitation, those ideas do become a little fumbled by the film’s various different styles.
Atmospherically, Happy As Lazzaro works rather well, but it’s at the expense of what should have been the film’s core drama, the lack of which I was very disappointed by, feeling that it was a whole lot harder to form a strong emotional connection as a result.
So, despite its unique and often striking style, blending gritty drama with magical realism, and social themes with dark humour, Happy As Lazzaro isn’t a film that works quite as well as it wants to, with its core emotional and dramatic power lost in the midst of its stylistic flair, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.7 overall.