In the midst of the screening of Alice Rohrwacher's latest 'Happy as Lazzaro' ('Lazzaro Felice') I was overcome by a nearly unbearable sense of pride at being Italian. It's something I've come across one or two times before and I believe it is due to this new wave of fellow compatriot filmmakers who have brought back the idea of magic to Italian cinema.
As I sobbed in my seat, I realized that all the inspiration that lacked in our movies from about the late Seventies to now, has surged powerfully into a movement that has infiltrating the old status quo and created a brand new tsunami of talent in the process. And that simply takes my breath away.
When I sat with Rohrwacher a day later, she admitted that while in the past there existed a competition between Italian filmmakers as to who would be named the best one, now there is a stronger sense of community among the younger talents and that has made for better cinema.
At the center of that pool of tremendous talent stands Rohrwacher, with her special sense of spirituality -- the filmmaker admitted during our interview that her relationship with religion is "pre-historic" and it's about faith before all the ugly stuff like war and abuse came into the equation -- and her magical vision. Part fantasy, part documentary like realism, it's undeniable that with each film Rohrwacher reinvents cinema-making.
And in the midst of that, is her Lazzaro, played by newcomer Adriano Tardiolo like he's been acting since he was a child -- and yet refreshingly also not so.
The story of 'Happy as Lazzaro' takes place in the isolated pastoral village of Inviolata, in a farming community where Lazzaro himself is the incarnation of the line in the Beatitudes "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." He is kind, hardworking and agreeable, and because of these qualities some think dim-witted. When the farm's landowner, the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna, comes to visit with her son, Tancredi, the two boys form an unlikely alliance and it's a connection that ends up changing Lazzaro's life. Yet his change, the change in landscape, time and thoughts is nothing compared to how I felt when I came out of the theater.
I'm not alone in how I feel of course and the buzz after the screening of 'Happy as Lazzaro' points to a prize, if not the award. Perhaps we are all ready to believe in magic again, but also have faith in love and the goodness that can be a part of each of our lives. We can all learn from Lazzaro, and we can take those lessons home with us when we leave Cannes. They won't make our luggage any heavier and add certain weightlessness to our hearts.
When I told Rohrwacher that I cried through so much of her film she said, very tongue in cheek, smiling, "I wonder why people cry with this film?" Yet there was something in Rohrwacher's masterpiece, beyond my own personal national pride, that felt cathartic and life changing. Even its star felt that way, as I had the chance to discover when I spent a few minutes with Tardiolo on the terrace of the Festival de Cannes, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this grand event.
His incredible presence, his wonderful sense of self, his calm and soft-spokenness were a refreshing change and I could completely understand when Rohrwacher described her leading man as "unexpectedly beautiful".
Following is the result of that chat with Adriano Tardiolo, an interview that has turned into a highlight of this festival for me.
What was the hardest challenge of playing this character, who is like a saint. I mean I see you are yourself a very sweet and special man, so I believe a lot came from your own experience. But what was the most difficult aspect of creating him?
Adriano Tardiolo: The hardest challenge was due to the fact that I'm not a professional actor, I don't have the technical expertise needed for the work. As a result, I had a lot of trouble at times but I am lucky to have been supported greatly by Alice and her collaborators. Otherwise I would have never been able to interpret this character.
So this is your very first role as an actor?
Tardiolo: Yes, I'd never acted before, not in a film not even in the theater.
And how were you discovered by Alice?
Tardiolo: I was discovered in kind of a funny and weird way. Alice was holding casting calls in the school I was attending last year and in other schools around my territory. I never signed up, or filled in their forms, to be part of the casting calls, and never went to one. I didn't know cinema, I never thought of being in a film in my lifetime. I study economics so I thought about that. But I met one of Alice's collaborators, who came into my classroom and chose me. She said "you must speak with Alice because we want to work with you." So we began to get to know one another, to understand who Lazzaro is and what we would have to do together and after some time, I accepted the role.
Where were you born?
Tardiolo: I was born in Orvieto, which is famous for the big cathedral, the Duomo di Orvieto.
How old were you when Alice discovered you?
Tardiolo: I was 18, this was a year ago.
Now that you've been to Cannes, with your first film where you are the leading man, what do you think about all this? What has changed in you?
Tardiolo: This experience has been wonderful. Just making a film for me was something unexpected -- a huge emotion. Being here in Cannes makes everything much more magical. What has changed in me and what remains the same? I wouldn't know. Maybe nothing has changed now, in this moment, but maybe in the future this experience will change my character.
Do you think you want to continue to act?
Tardiolo: I don't know. I'm very undecided because it's a beautiful job that helps people to grow, in my opinion. But I had programmed my life, as an economics major, I would have liked to become an accountant or a bookkeeper. Yet this experience has been very meaningful and I could change my mind. For now, I tell everyone that I need to think about it from a distance, since at the moment I'm living the euphoria, which is so strong, and obviously this has been beautiful. I could say, "yes, I'll continue acting" but I need to reflect on that.
This film will take you on a long journey, for the upcoming Italian release and at other festivals around the world. So you don't need to decide now...
Tardiolo: Yes, yes, to decide now isn't the best thing to do. This film will continue on, and maybe I'll make other experiences along the way that will bring me to a better informed decision.
In which way are you like Lazzaro, and how do you differ from him?
Tardiolo: I'm like Lazzaro because I'm shy, I talk in a soft voice and I try to stay out of the limelight. But to be like Lazzaro is impossible -- he's inimitable. Yet I believe there are aspects of Lazzaro's character that all of us could make our own.