Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Luca Chikovani, Alba Rohrwacher
RunTime: 2 hrs 5 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Opening Day: 2 December 2018 (Singapore premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival)
Synopsis: On a rural plantation in Italy, the gentle Lazzaro lives with his family in permanent debt to a wealthy marchesa. Just as the marchesa exploits her sharecroppers, so the other sharecroppers in turn take advantage of simple-minded Lazzaro. His gullible nature draws the attention of the marchesa’s son Tancredi—who is orchestrating his own kidnapping, for reasons beyond Lazzaro’s understanding.
In this increasingly cynical world we live in, is there still a place for fairy tales? We are guessing Hollywoodhas no place for such fables anymore (how many of you really indulged yourselves in the silliness and magic of Mary Poppins Returns without any bit of cynicism?), but mainstream audiences can still turn to world cinema for that dose of idealistic enchantment.
Enter Alice Rohrwacher’s latest film which won the award for Best Screenplay at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a Lazzaro, the titular character who is ever naïve and optimistic. The farmer crosses paths with a young man from an upper class who is planning to stage his own kidnap. The two form an unexpected friendship (nope, this not a repressed gay drama), and the story unfolds into a charming tale about growing up and always keeping your imagination alive.
We are given a glimpse into an unfamiliar way of life, where farmhands work based on a sharecropping arrangement. This form of agriculture has the landowner getting his tenants to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land. Yup, no pay is involved and this doesn’t go down too well with us urbanites, does it? The 125 minute film also sheds light on the contrast between a slowly disappearing rural Italy and its modern counterpart which is being consumed by corruption. Both landscapes are marked by beautiful cinematography.
Rohrwacher, who first caught international attention with the Grand Prix winner The Wonders (2014), has delivered a pleasing film that is easy to watch. You will follow the protagonist has he goes about his simple yet fulfilling life. His earnest character is something you once had, or wished you had experienced. There is simply nothing skeptical about his worldview, and you know this is impossible to achieve in our society.
Adriano Tardiolo is perfect in his portrayal as Lazzaro. His wide eyes and ever sincere look of wonderment anchors the film. He is someone you want to root for, and someone you wish will never lose his innocence. His friend is played Luca Chikovani in his younger days, and Tommaso Ragno in his older days (without giving away too much, there is an element of magic in the story written by Rohrwacher), while Nicoletta Braschi takes on the showy role of a notorious landlord.
The ending sequence is a memorable depiction of how someone’s innocence can be terrifying jarred by the harshness of human nature. Because where we are now is a point of no return, we can only watch this film and be filled with bittersweet melancholy.
(A pleasing and likeable fable that reminds us that innocence and optimism is very much missing from our lives)
Review by John Li