Lazzaro Felice, by Alice Rohrwacher, is an impressive commentary on Italian contemporary politics, deeply rooted in religious traditions, both domestic and as it pertains to its foreign nationals. But there’s a lot to unpack for it to start making sense. In lieu of our traditional review — we found some great ones on this film — we’ve decided to put together a teaching guide to Lazzaro Felice to help bring it into classrooms across the country.
Before you watch:
- Ask students if the name “Lazzaro” means anything to them, or what they might guess about the film knowing only the title. Are they familiar with the Lazarus that appears in the New Testament or the story of his miraculous resurrection by Jesus at the behest of his grieving sisters?
- Ask students if they can deduce when or where the film takes place by looking only at its promotional poster or trailer. How are the protagonists dressed? Do they belong to a specific place, time, or social caste? Is the action broken down into a past sequence and present sequence? What assumptions can be made about the characters’ appearance? Would students be prepared to have these assumptions reversed?
- Give a little information about Alice Rohrwacher, the film’s director. It might be useful for students to have passive knowledge of her previous works, in particular Corpo Celeste, and her general interest in issues surrounding religion and the personal experience of the sacred and/or profane. They might also benefit from knowing that she was born in Fiesole (Tuscany) and raised in Castel Giorgio, a town near Terni (Umbria) in central Italy, characterized by a particular type of physical terrain, countryside, and manner of speech.
- Ask students if they know anything about farming in Italy and the natural challenges that farmers might face. Do they know anything about wolves and the fear that many agricultural workers harbour toward them, especially in central Italy, for their frequent decimation of flocks of sheep or harm to other livestock?
- Ask students if they know anything about the Italian economy and the ways in which native Italians, naturalized foreigners, and immigrants might be affected by it.
- Remind students what the terms “irony,” “allegory,” “foreshadowing,” “symbolism,” “poetic justice” and “analogy” mean.
As you watch:
- Look for hints about when the story might take place (particular objects, styles of clothing, demonstrated habits, state of house and furniture, etc.)
- Pay attention to the title character’s interactions with those around him. What does his contribution consist of? Who are his main interlocutors? What is his role to them? Is Lazzaro a realistic (verosimile) character? If so, how so? If not, why not?
- Look for a shift in tone dependent on the plot twist (spoiler: there’s a plot twist).
Post-screening discussion questions:
- When is the story set? How can we tell? What, if anything, is anomalous or unrealistic about this setting? Would it be believable in another setting or moment in time?
- Summarize the story in your own words. Consider the two (or three) separate moments of time in which it takes place and the transformation of its main characters.
- Reflect on the character of the Marchesa. Who is she? What values does she represent? What does her behaviour reveal about her as she perceives herself in relation to others? Is she a symbolic or allegorical figure? If so, what does her relationship with the sharecroppers reveal about the Italian caste system, past or present? Does her rebellious son Tancredi resemble her in any way?
- Why does the young couple’s desire to leave Inviolata ring as preposterous to the other villagers? What does the name “Inviolata” mean? Does it carry any symbolic weight? Is it used with irony? Does this moment have a larger “literary” function within the movie?
- What happens to Nicola once Inviolata has been evacuated? What can we learn from the scene in which he auctions off odd jobs to the lowest bidder? Who is doing the bidding? At what price is the job finally sold? What does this reveal about the Italian economy? What does it reveal about its treatment of underrepresented or disenfranchised groups, both Italian and non-Italian?
- What does the wolf symbolize in this film? Is the wolf’s spirit embodied in any specific character? If so, how are they related?
- What kind of character is Lazzaro? What do we know about his status in the second half of the film, once Inviolata is evacuated and the Marchesa’s house is cleared of its remaining objects? Think of Lazzaro in terms of allegory plays, sainthood, and the religious teachings of the New Testament. What might he represent?
- Reflect on the scene in which Lazzaro and his friends are expelled from the church they try to enter, only to be inexplicably followed by the music of the church organ on their way home. What is the take-home-message of this scene? What comment, if any, is Rohrwacher trying to make about the current state of the Roman Catholic Church and/or about a more personal experience of religion?
- What happens to Tancredi in the second half of the film? Does he accomplish the goal he sets out to reach in the first half of the film? If so, how so? If not, why not? What social class does he belong to now? How has he gotten there? What does this change, if any, reveal about economic trends in Italy over the past thirty years? Can Tancredi’s story be generalized to apply to a larger sample of Italians?
- Reflect on the final scene, in the bank. Why is Lazzaro there? How can we label or characterize his request? Who else is present? Are there any symbolic presences either physical or figurative (spoken or mentioned)? What is Lazzaro’s ultimate fate?
- Try to pin a label on Lazzaro. Is he a ghost? A saint? An allegorical figure? If so, what does he represent? Is he simply a normal person frozen in time? Think of the New Testament parables, and the letters from Paul. Does Lazzaro have any perceivable link to either?
- Is the film’s take-home-message a religious one? Secular one? Both? Neither? Can you summarize Rohrwacher’s intention and meaning in just one sentence?