Alice Rohrwacher

7.0 Corpo Celeste/ Heavenly Body (2011)
7.2 Le Meraviglie/ The Wonders (2014)
7.8 Lazzaro Felice/ Happy as Lazzaro (2018)

Alice Rohrwacher (Italy, 1981) debuted with Corpo Celeste/ Heavenly Body (2011).

Le Meraviglie/ The Wonders (2014)

Lazzaro Felice/ Happy as Lazzaro (2018), blessed by the cinematography of Helene Louvart, is a heartbreaking fairy tale about a modern Lazarus, who not only is resurrected but is also a gentle soul like St Francis. This is two films into one. The first film is a neorealist film, apparently inspired to a real case, set in the countryside in the time of the lira. The second film begins with Lazzaro's resurrection and is a magic-realist film set in the city in the time of the euro. The mild humor of the first half (nothing terrible happens to the victims of the hoax) turns into bitter satire and cruel humor in the second half, when the poor are relocated from the village to the city only to end up in the slums, as poor as before but without the food and the animals of their fields. Even the Church rejects them. This Lazzaro is a strange version of the biblical Lazzaro who was resurrected by Jesus: in this case he is resurrected by a wolf. The wolf is the second life of Lazzaro: Lazzaro gets up after the wolf smells him, and Lazzaro dies when the wolf leaves him. The wolf is the main threat for the sharecropper in the country village, but becomes the very force that propels the freed sharecropper towards his suicidal goal of rejoining his only friend. The tender supernatural plot is reminiscent of Cesare Zavattini's supernatural screenplays, such as for Vittorio De Sica's Miracolo a Milano (1950), the heroic and stoic hardship of the peasants and the lumperproletariat evoke Luchino Visconti's La Terra Trema, and the human and natural landscape is reminiscent of Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978). And there is also something of Dario Fo's angelic and provincial Marxism. But at the end Rohrwacher leaves us with a sense of utter and total despair: there is no redemption for the poor, no justice, and ultimately no meaning to their existence. There is widespread corruption, brutality and selfishness. The simpleton can survive a fall from a cliff but cannot survive the society created by his fellow humans.

The film opens with a young man serenading his loved one, playing an ancient song accompanied with bagpipes. The two lovers get engaged and shock the community with the news that they want to leave the village and move to the city. Inviolata is an isolated village, actually just four homes, three for the poor peasants and one for the rich landowner. It is cut out from the rest of the world. The community is shocked to hear that someone wants to leave. Lazzaro is a young man who is notorious for being a good and energetic worker. He is also a bit mentally retarded, and the others take advantage of him, so that he does twice the amount of work of the others. One day a man comes to visit, riding a small motorcycle, and is met by the priest. Nicola runs the business of the landowner. He pulls out books and counts what they consumed and what they produced and, like previous times, he tells them that their debt has increased: they lost two animals to the wolves and they have to pay for that. Someone remarks that they worked so hard for nothing. The peasants grow tobacco, which he takes back to the landowner. Nicola is shocked to learn that the two lovers want to leave the village: this is not allowed, and her relatives would be severely punished. The landowner, Alfonsina, who claims to be a marquess, shows up in a car driven by a chaffeur. She rides with her gloomy son Tancredi, while Nicola takes along his teenage daughter Teresa. To get to the village they have to cross a river over sacks of sand, a very easy walk. Meanwhile, Antonia and Lazzaro have been preparing their rich home. Antonia serves dinner to the quartet. Nicola and the marquess discuss the tobacco business, and it becomes clear that they are cheating the peasants, who are being treated like slaves. Nicola is afraid that the peasants are plotting something. In the kitchen two children beg Antonia to let them grab a bite of the cake. When she forbids them to touch the cake, they spit on it. Antonia serves it anyway. Tancredi is bored and wants to leave the place. As he walks around, the peasants are afraid of him. The kind Lazzaro offers him his sandwich. Tancredi doesn't want it but then feeds it to his dog. Tancredi is a chain smoker who coughes all the time. Lazzaro takes him up the hill where Lazzaro has built his personal refuge, next to the stable of the sheep. He makes coffee for Tancredi but Tancredi reproaches him for wasting time instead of working in the fields with the others. Later, Tancredi asks his mother whether she's not afraid that the peasants will discover her hoax: obviously the peasants have been raised thinking that they belong to the marquess, despite the fact that sharecropping has long been illegal. His mother tells him that everybody exploits everybody else. For example, look at how they exploit Lazzaro because he is such a gentle soul. Nicola treats the peasants like plantation slaves in front of the marquess. Then Tancredi disappears. Nicola gathers all the peasants to search for missing boy. Lazzaro finds him the following morning in his secret cave. Tancredi has decided to fight his mother and wants Lazzaro to help him. Tancredi wants to fake a kidnapping and writes a ransom letter to his mother, which he then signs with blood... Lazzaro's blood. The marquess guesses immediately that it is a trick and instructs Nicola to ignore the ransom request. Teresa, clearly in love with Tancredi, is the only one who is worried. Tancredi tries to build a slingshot but it breaks. He gifts it to Lazzaro and declares that Lazzaro must be his half-brother. Lazzaro receives the broken slingshot like a precious gift. They howl like wolves and the real wolves echo their howls. All the peasants hear them but think these are all wolves. When he returns to the common house, the other peasants are mad at Lazzaro for disappearing. In the morning Lazzaro brings food to Tancredi, who slept again in the cave. Lazzaro then joins the others in the fields. A storm is approaching. The others run for shelter, but Lazzaro remains petrified in the rain. He gets a fever and is forced in bed, unconscious. Tancredi goes starving and begins to roam the hill, looking for edible berries and fruit. Tancredi calls Teresa pretending that his life is in danger. Teresa tries to tell the marquess but realizes that the marquess doesn't care about Tancredi's fate. Therefore Teresa decides to call the police, something that her father explicitly forbade, because the last thing they want is the police to discover this illegal slave plantation. Meanwhile, a feverish Lazzaro searches for Tancredi on the hill. Lazzaro slips and falls over the edge of a cliff, apparently dead. The police arrive in a helicopter and they are shocked about what they find: these 54 peasants live in the past. The cops realize that the marquess used them like slaves. The cops line them up and march them towards the city. The peasants initially refuse to cross the river: they are afraid of everything that they have never done before. Antonia asks them in vain to go look for the missing Lazzaro. We hear the voiceover telling the fairy tale of a wolf and a saint. A wolf finds Lazzaro's body and smells him. As the voiceover says, the wolf leaves him alone after smelling a good man. Lazzaro wakes up and walks back to the village. He finds that the village has been abandoned. Then he finds two men in the rich house of the marquess: they are obviously thieves stealing the furniture, but they tell Lazzaro that they are simply moving the furniture to the house of the marquess in the city, and refuse to tell Lazzaro the address. Lazzaro believes them and even offers to help them. The thieves realize that he is an idiot and take advantage of him. He then asks for a ride to the city, since there is nobody in the village, but they tell him to walk. He walks and walks and walks. It looks like the hike takes a long time because he reaches the city when it is snowing, and he is still wearing summer clothes. Along the way he discovers the source of a mysterious red light that fascinated the villagers all those years: it's an antenna. He reaches a place where illegal immigrants are gathering in front of a truck. The man in the truck offers jobs and the immigrants bid lower and lower wages. Lazzaro recognizes an aged Nicola. Nicola reacts with fear and sends him away. We now realize that many years have elapsed since Lazzaro "died". Lazzaro keeps walking and accidentally stumbles onto the same thieves again: they are robbing a store, but they get very little. They take Lazzaro as a hostage and Lazzaro wants to follow them anyway. They take him to the slum where they live. Lazzaro wants to find Tancredi: he hasn't forgotten his half-brother and still has the broken slingshot. The old thief is met by a woman who turns out to be an aged Antonia, and she recognizes Lazzaro. Seeing that he hasn't aged at all and is alive, the religious girl gets on her knees as if she saw a saint. Antonia's family is less excited to meet a ghost. The two thieves are actually the ones feeding Antonia's family. Despite the long walk, Lazzaro is not hungry. Antonia shows him a newspaper that reported their case: a community of 54 people kept in slavery for so many years by the evil marquess. It was a famous case. Alfonsina went to jail for racketeering. But obviously not much has improved for the peasants: Antonia's family now lives in an abandoned water tank and lives on petty crime. Lazzaro is fascinated by all the things he has never seen, like the train and the TV set. Antonia helps her man scam people, and takes along Lazzaro who looks so honest, but then regrets it. Lazzaro finds another way to be useful: Antonia's husband realizes that Lazzaro knows all the plants growing around them, and most of them are edible. Antonia's family, instead, refuses to pick vegetables: they are still traumatized by their life picking tobacco. One day Lazzaro recognizes Tancredi's dog and follows it. Sure enough the dog takes him to a very aged Tancredi. Lazzaro is happy to see his half-brother and shows him the slingshot to prove that he is really Lazzaro. Tancredi takes him to a meeting with a businessman at a bank, but it is a practical joke against the businessman and the bank. Lazzaro then takes Tancredi to meet Antonia's family in their humble shack. Lazzaro plays the bagpipe for the occasion. Tancredi quickly realizes that they stole valuables for his mother's old house, but doesn't look outraged. Tancredi and Lazzaro howl like wolves, evoking the old days. Tancredi invites everybody to lunch and tells them to dress up a bit. They do their best and Antonia insists on buying pastries so they don't show up empty handed. They spend all their savings on the pastries. Tancredi has given them the address of a derelict building. They walk up the stairs and ring the bell. They recognize the woman who opens the door: Teresa. But Teresa sends them away. This was another practical joke by a Tancredi who is obviously losing his mind. Then Teresa calls them back. They hope in vain that the lunch is still on: Teresa begs them to leave the pastries. Clearly she and Tancredi are starving. Antonia does so. Teresa tells them that the bank ruined Tancredi. The poor family spent all their money for nothing. And now the husband's truck won't start, so they have to push it back to their place. Along the way they hear the music of a church organ. Lazzaro is hypnotized. Antonia stops the group and they walk inside. A nun runs towards them and sends them out: it is a private function. They resume pushing the truck in the streets, but the music leaves the church and starts following them (the second miracle of the film). They chat about returning to Inviolata: at least they will have their own food. Lazzaro starts crying, clearly hurt by Tancredi's cruel joke. The following morning Lazzaro walks into a bank. He behaves erratically and one of the customers sees a gun in his pocket. The bank's manager asks him whether he is carrying a gun and Lazzaro replies "yes". They all raise their hands, terrified. But soon the customers realize that Lazzaro only has a broken slingshot in his pants. Angry, they start beating him, and he doesn't defend himself. He sees a wolf next to him, but this time the wolf leaves him. By the time the police arrive, Lazzaro is dead, killed by the brutal crowd of well-dressed middle-class customers. The wolf walks out of the bank and into the traffic, heading for Inviolata.
(Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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