The caricature of a Holy Fool has been one of the most enthralling and iconic religious notions throughout history. However, the treatment of these figures has oscillated between demonization, victimisation and hatred to deification, adulation and worship; depending on the prevailing notions of the time. Today, despite medical diagnosis and awareness, a stigma still remains. In her new film, Happy as Lazzaro, Alice Rohrwacher toys with this theme to bring the most remarkable character of 2018 to the big screen.

Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is everyone’s friend. Living in an insular rural community which is lorded over and exploited by the Machiavellian Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna (Nicoletta Braschi), his sweet nature and readiness to help is abused and exploited by the townsfolk. Her son Tancredi (Tommaso Ragno) is bored and frustrated. He initially views Lazzaro as just someone to do his bidding,but eventually as a kind of subservient friend who can help him hatch a plot to fake his own kidnapping.

Happy as Lazzaro is an absolute delight. Rohrwacher play with time and perspective which blurs the lines between the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is done remarkably subtly and impressively well. It’s wonderfully shot by Hélène Louvart, whose lens brings the ruggedness, poverty and beauty of the community to life. However, it’s Tardiolo who steals the show. He’s absolutely perfect in his wide-eyed wonder and angelic innocence.

Happy as Lazzaro screens at London Film Festival on 16 and 17 October.