This is riveting magic-realist story from director/writer Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Corpo Celeste) which was inspired by real life.

A story of sharecroppers working in a feudal system that had been made illegal in 1982 who were exploited by a Marchesa on a tobacco farm in Central Italy.  

Cigarette queen Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi) thinks it is the natural order that she controls the life of the 54 villagers (many of these actors are from families that live in the area) who live in cramped and squalid conditions.

They work all day in the fields at an estate ironically named Inviolata, subsisting on what they can grow for themselves. They are unpaid and constantly in debt.

Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo, a newcomer in his first acting role) is perfectly cast as a childlike and willing helper. He has huge eyes and a cherubic face.

Simple or a saint – we don’t know, but perhaps he doesn’t understand the bad side of human nature. People take advantage of him but he is happy and uncomplaining.

He is befriended by Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) who has dyed blond hair and is rebelling against his mother the Marchesa, and shows him his secret retreat in the hills where he stays and fakes his abduction to make his mother look foolish.

The plight of the sharecroppers is discovered by the police who are trying to locate the missing Marquis. They are taken off in a bus to the outskirts of the city where they are free to live in conditions which are not much better than the farm, surviving any way they can, mostly with criminal activities. 

Lazzaro falls off a steep cliff and wakes up many years later without having aged – and having had an encounter with a wolf. He eventually walks to the city and finds his friends who are now a whole lot older.

Antonia (Alba Rohrwacher, the director’s sister) recognises Lazzaro and he joins the clan. Tancredi (now played by Tommaso Ragno) is now in straitened circumstances and trying to sell Inviolata with little success.

Time passes for some and not for others – and even though you don’t quite know what is going on in this mix of folklore, fairytale, biblical overtones, political comment and a wolf that comes and goes, the film is mesmerising.

French cinema photographer Helene Louvart shot the movie on Super 16 mm film which beautifully evokes the warmth and colour of the countryside and the sharp contrast of the city.

It will show on Netflix – but do yourself a favour. See it in a cinema on a big screen and be surrounded by its magic.

125 minutes.

Italian language with English subtitles.

Showing at UWA Somerville from Monday 25 February to Sunday 3 March 3 at 8 pm. ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 5 March to Friday 8 March and Sunday 10 March at 7.30 pm.

Watch the trailer…

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