One film has emerged as the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Palme d’Or, according to film critic and oddsmaker Neil Young. Happy as Lazzaro, Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher’s follow-up to her 2014 Grand Prix-winning The Wonders, has pulled way ahead of the pack and is currently riding high in Reini Urban’s daily aggregation of seven international polls gathering critics’ ratings from Cannes. Writing for Screen, Jonathan Romney calls the new film a “delirious brew of modernism, folktale, and fabulist invention” that “unravels with a Pinocchio-like logic that comes across as perplexing at first, then proves spellbinding.”
As Romney hints, there’s a turn of events about an hour into the film that’s best left unspoiled. Suffice it to say that pure and simple-minded Lazzaro (newcomer Adriano Tardiolo, winning plaudits for his wide-eyed performance) is part of a team of tobacco farmers in an isolated Italian village being exploited by the “Queen of Cigarettes,” the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna. As decades fly by, Lazzaro remains a young man, while everyone around him ages naturally.
Rohrwacher is biting off a lot to chew on, as Guy Lodge emphasizes in Variety. “Earthy folkloric storytelling, time-traveling magical realism, and fact-inspired social drama are fused in [this] tale of a rural innocent defying life’s certainties to bear witness to two separate eras of social and economic exploitation.” Further, Happy as Lazzaro “extends a strong tradition of Italian cinema merging candid naturalism with a cool breeze of whimsy: There’s spiritual DNA from the likes of Nanni Moretti, Ermanno Olmi, and the Taviani brothers here, though Rohrwacher is nobody’s imitator.”
Notebook editor Daniel Kasman seconds that observation, noting that “Fellini might take such a situation and turn in into a giddy cavalcade of debasement, irony, and idealism, and a lesser director would make this all very whimsical and quirky, but Rohrwacher resolutely turns this surprisingly high concept tale into something calmer, less pretentious, and organically unkempt.”
“Unkempt” might well sum up Boyd van Hoeij’s critique of the film. “Happy as Lazzaro feels both timeless and of the moment,” he writes in the Hollywood Reporter, “but, especially in its second half, [it] can’t seem to make up its mind between being literal, allegorical, simply anecdotal, or a kind of loose association of all these possibilities.”
For Tommaso Tocci, too, writing for the International Cinephile Society, the film doesn’t quite go where he was hoping it would, but he does single out for special praise “Hélène Louvart’s 16 mm cinematography, left unmasked with all its natural fraying.”