Happy as Lazzaro has garnered a number of awards and nominations, including the Canes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. It is an enchanting insight into an aspect of Italian history and tradition that doesn’t often take center stage in the movie theaters.
Rather than sweeping cathedrals or regal art galleries, Happy as Lazzaro opens on a dusty, rustic farm. The impoverished farmers who work the land are apparently engaged in sharecropping; trying to pay off a suspiciously large debt to the wealthy family who owns the land with the crops they cultivate and harvest. Between the feudalistic layout, the presence of modern machinery and folksy atmosphere, you as a viewer are left genuinely uncertain as to what era the film is meant to take place in.
In the midst of all of this is Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a pixie-like young farmer who floats through the dirt and noise with childish acquiescence and an angelic demeanor that makes him seem like a being from another world. Lazzaro befriends Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) the son of the farm’s cruel mistress, which leads to a shocking twist that explains the mysterious nature of the estate and injects a dramatic dose of magic, mysticism and traditional Italian folklore into the story.
The movie may test the short attention span of today’s cinema goers. In the beginning it moves rather slow, depending largely on keeping the audience confused to maintain their interest. As the story progresses, a powerfully relevant theme of worker exploitation and the tremendous gaps that can exist in a society emerges.