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Alice Rohrwacher: ‘When you work, it’s hard to find time for other things’

The director of ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ on her brilliant time-twisting folk tale

Director Alice Rohrwacher on the red carpet
Franco Origlia/WireImage
By Joseph Walsh |
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You need to know about Alice Rohrwacher. Up there with her fellow Italian filmmakers, Matteo Garrone and Paolo Sorrentino, she draws on a wild, untamed imagination that has little time for storytelling conventions. Her latest film is a time-twisting fable about a pure soul, Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), who is trapped by a wicked tobacco baroness. To say more would spoil it, but needless to say, this is ambitious filmmaking that won’t disappoint.

Is it true ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ was inspired by a newspaper article?
‘It was a tiny story in a local newspaper, but these sorts of stories are reasonably commonplace. It was almost like a comic story, where a marchesa had forgotten to mention to her serfs that the rules had changed 20 years ago [and that she was supposed to be paying them]. They were working so hard, they didn’t even notice.’

The film shifts from traditional drama to almost a fairytale. How did you find that balance? 
‘It’s a relationship, an erotic relationship, between reality and imagination. It’s about how reality can seduce imagination and how imagination can seduce reality.’

Adriano Tardiolo in ‘Happy as Lazzaro’

How did you discover the actor who plays Lazzaro? 
‘I found Adriano in college studying to be a quantity surveyor. Now he’s considering becoming an economist. He had this gentle quality about him, and absolutely no interest in making a movie. He said he would do one month of rehearsals with us and would see whether or not it worked for him. We would have been in real trouble if he’d said no.’

Is it right that you created an actual tobacco farm for the film?
‘We planted [it] and everything. Now you can understand the level of commitment I gave to this movie! The marchesa is loosely based on an Italian woman who was referred to as “The Queen of Cigarettes”. For us, it was also funny, even a little tragic, that these people toiled and toiled for something they couldn’t even eat.’

Outside of making films, what do you love doing?
‘I love to read, to go to the movies, to walk, to speak with people, to go to the theatre. Of course, when you start to work, it’s hard to find time for other things.’

‘Happy as Lazzaro’ opens Fri Apr 5. Read our review here

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