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CANNES 2018 Competition

Alice Rohrwacher • Director

“In Italy, the lines between fiction and reality are blurry”

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- CANNES 2018: We talk to Alice Rohrwacher, the director of Happy as Lazzaro, who has come back to the Cannes competition after her previous film, The Wonders, won the Grand Prix in 2014

Alice Rohrwacher • Director
(© Fabio Lovino)

In Happy as Lazzaro [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alice Rohrwacher
film profile
]
, screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, calm, gentle Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) lives a quiet life surrounded by family and friends in his village, Inviolata. Although the sudden arrival of young marquis Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) makes him realise there is more to life than daily chores, it will take him some time to understand the real reason behind his sheltered existence. We spoke to director Alice Rohrwacher about the film.

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Cineuropa: Happy as Lazzaro has already earned you comparisons to some acclaimed directors. Were you surprised by that?
Alice Rohrwacher: I just hope they won’t get offended by it [laughs]. There are no direct inspirations for my films, but rather a wide admiration for a constellation of different maestros. I can’t even name them, because in doing so, I would already set a hierarchy that is not present in my heart. They are present in my work, but on a very unconscious level. And also, when you are working with dozens of amateur actors, children and animals, huge crews and machines, you really don’t have time to say: “Hmm, I would like to make this shot the way he or she has done it before.”

Italy is changing, and Rome is no longer the centre of filmmaking. We exchange quite a lot with other filmmakers, and we collaborate and help each other out. In the past, it was all about trying to name the best Italian director. Now it’s no longer about who is the best, but about preserving a wide range of diversity.

Once again, you decided to shoot on film. Why?
I am very loyal: if people don’t hurt me or betray me, I stick with them. The same goes for film. It has never disappointed me; it has never caused me any problems, so I really have no reason to move to digital. It’s a powerful, beautiful, tangible technology, and at the end of the day, you have your reels and dailies to go through. Film has its own life, and it’s completely independent. It’s a real threesome: the actors, the filmmakers and film stock.

Lazzaro is named after a biblical character and Tancredi after a leader of the First Crusade. Did you always intend to mix so many different mythologies here?
I come from a very mythological place. In Italy, the lines between fiction and reality are blurry. We are a country where small facts turn into legends, and vice versa, which is why when I name my characters, I often draw on literary or artistic references. Their names are my lucky charms – take Gelsomina in The Wonders [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alice Rohrwacher
interview: Tiziana Soudani
film profile
]
and Lazzaro here. When we have to choose a name for a child, we do the same thing – we wouldn’t call him or her the name of someone we don’t like. This mixture of fantasy and realism is not just a trait of my cinema – it’s a trait of my country and me.

But you dreamed of making documentaries at first, didn’t you?
Yes, but I am way too shy. I would never be able to show real people and crucify them later on. In the case of this film, these are real peasants and farmers I am showing, but nowadays, they have smaller families and are no longer part of this big rural community. So I am not observing them – they are acting, pretending to be someone they are not. It’s fiction based on reality.

Religious aspects can often be found in your films. Why are you so drawn to them?
And I’ve never even set foot in a church! They should build me a statue [laughs]. I don’t come from a religious family – I wasn’t even baptised. But Italy is a Catholic country, and I do share a certain religious sensibility, even though it has nothing to do with dogmas. When I did my first film, Corpo celeste [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alice Rohrwacher
film profile
]
, I had to find out how religion is taught, and in Happy as Lazzaro, there are so many Catholic references because the people living in Inviolata are believers. Religion is one of the tools used to keep them in the dark.

How difficult was it to cast the part of Lazzaro? It’s Adriano Tardiolo’s first film.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t imagine Lazzaro as being that beautiful. But I knew he needed to have this certain luminosity about him, which is not an easy thing to explain. Can you imagine an ad like that? “We are searching for luminous people” – it would just sound absurd. We decided to focus on boys from 16 to 20 years old because he needed to be young, but it quickly became obvious that the real Lazzaro would never come to a casting – after all, he is Lazzaro. We knew we couldn’t just look for him on the streets, but then we did it anyway – we went to schools and looked around, and there was something in Adriano’s attitude that convinced us it was him. The only problem was that when we made him an offer, he politely declined. He said: “I don’t know what you are looking for, I don’t know what you are asking me to do.” Suddenly, I was the one being tested. We rehearsed the whole film so that he could understand it, hoping he would say yes. Which he did in the end – I passed the test. It was an important lesson because nowadays we think that everybody dreams of being in films. It was a reality check – a truly humbling experience. I think it put me in a good position to make this film.

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