Last week, the Italian Cinema class welcomed rising Italian film director Alice Rohrwacher to AAP, with a special screening of her third film Lazzaro Felice. The immense privilege was ours—followed by other major accolades, Rohrwacher’s film won the award for Best Screenplay at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Lazzaro Felice traverses the journey of Lazzaro, a virtuous young farmer who befriends nobleman Tancredi; their friendship eventually lures Lazzaro into the large, empty city. Divided into two sections, this tale examines survival in rural and metropolitan areas in Italy through the life of an “imperfect saint” figure. The first hour entranced us with a look into the exploited lives of sharecroppers, toiling on the tobacco plantation of Inviolata. The open storyline skips time in bounds and leaps— in the second hour, Lazzaro appears young and gullible, even years later. In search of Tancredi, he follows his community as it struggles through hardships in transition to the city. The unique timelessness of this film has held director Alice Rohrwacher in acclaim, for her story reveals a deeper interpretation of marginalized Italian society and its adjustment to rapid modernization—those who are evicted into new identities and lives with no prior familiarity. The only thing that they seem to adjust to is the overbearing cycle of exploitation and deception, serving authorities who push them to the peripheries of living. In the midst of their plight, Lazzaro is the loved, giving shepherd that simultaneously exists as a misunderstood lone wolf.
After the screening, Rohrwacher answered our questions and discussed her film with us. We discovered that these sepia-tinted, warm and wistful scenes were shot entirely on 16mm film. She further explained that her creative process, and imaginative use of music, involved a shrewd process of daily schedule making. “Imagining it in your head is easy”, Rohrwacher told us—actually placing the images in script space, considering time and money, creates challenges. As for her plot formulation, one student inquired whether she began with experimental parts like the time-leaps, or if she deconstructed an initial idea of a perfect film. Rohrwacher responded that she always knew this film would have two parts— this was the first of her decisions to crush a typical film structure— a “return to the contemporary, with new eyes.” Magical elements in the film, such as a glowing wolf, were essential additions to her edits of the classic tragedy form. It seems that much of Rohrwacher’s intent is rooted in a deliberate imperfectionism, keeping images as they are to simply convey truth. Her style heavily lends from poetry, emphasizing a “hole” that it sows in its audience.
The experience of hearing the director speak on her creation was awe-inspiring— much like her film, the conversation was fluid and broke my expectations of a traditional lecture. Above all, it was truly refreshing. Alice Rohrwacher’s film left us with a special tale to be harvested, growing like a bizarre dream in our consciousness.