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‘Happy as Lazzaro’ Isn’t Just One of Netflix’s Best Movies—It’s One of 2018’s Best

There hasn’t been a more decent and selfless movie hero this year than the title character of Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro, a sublime new Italian movie released directly to Netflix last month. As with Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the film’s broadly mainstream digital platform is at once at odds with, and hopefully supportive and nurturing of, its utterly distinctive and original artistic vision. ’Tis the season for ranking things, and although it’s arriving late, Happy as Lazzaro is absolutely one of the year’s major new works—don’t make a list without it.

As played by the young, sweet-faced Italian actor Adriano Tardiolo, the slightly cherubic Lazzaro is a figure of pure grace, and a seemingly ideal protagonist for a beautifully crafted and surpassingly lyrical movie with the tone and texture of a folktale. But Happy as Lazzaro is not as innocuous as its namesake. Rohrwacher, who copped a prize at Cannes for the film’s deceptively spare screenplay, is a filmmaker of real imagination, meaning that while she understands the power of fairy tales, she doesn’t fully believe in them. She leaves the task of repressing reality to her story’s villains, whose control over Lazzaro and the other inhabitants of a mountainside tobacco plantation brings to mind, of all things, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. In that much-mocked but genuinely ambitious thriller, the director of The Sixth Sense did a poor job of disguising his broadly allegorical story’s signature twist—that its characters were living in a controlled present-tense simulation of the American past—but still managed to ask some interesting questions about the relationship between innocence and experience. How can a population see through the lies of its leaders if the truth of the situation isn’t even on the

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