The movie loosely follows the plot of the book. It tells the story of a boy from Salamanca "of humble origins" who is apprenticed to a wily blind beggar. (It is from the character's name in this book that the term "lazarillo" was coined to mean a person or animal that guides a blind person ("ciego"), e.g. a seeing eye dog, or "perro lazarillo".) The devious blind man teaches the boy the art of deception ("engaño"), and in subsequent chapters/scenes he uses this cunning to make the most of his new situations and each of his various new masters: a priest, a squire, a friar, a pardoner, a chaplain, and finally a bailiff and archbishop. Through these vignettes, the story offers a glimpse of different professions and levels of 16th-century society, while also undercutting their nobleness and authority.
|Goya's Lazarillo de Tormes (painted from 1808-1812, previously known as "El Garrotillo").|
the picaresque ("picaresca") novel. The term picaresque comes from the word "pícaro" ("rogue" or "rascal"), and part of what makes the novel/film so incredibly entertaining is how the protagonist, both at the same time charming and troublesome, somehow manages to reveal the hypocrisy and duplicity of those around him even as it is he who is pulling the wool over their eyes. Using humor to underscore the stark reality of power and social structures. On one level this style of humor touches on some kind of universal human nature. It fits in with what 19th-century American ethnologist Daniel Brinton categorized as the trickster myth or archetype, embodied in the Coyote stories of Native American mythology or the fox in present-day Anglophone children's fables.
And indeed the picaresque would become wildly popular internationally as a literary style, influencing Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) (also made into a wonderful movie) about a naive and charming protagonist, whose dumb luck saves the day, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), whose naughtiness and many adventures undresses the 19th-century Antebellum South much as Lazarillo does 16th-century Castillian Spain… and is arguably present in even darker
|The Navajo myth of the Coyote,|
one of many tricksters throughout time
The lead in the 2001 film version is a famous contemporary theater actor, Rafael Álvarez, a.k.a. "El Brujo", whose substantial stage background helped to lend artistic credibility to the film adaptation. El Brujo is well known and well respected in Spain for his unique stage presence and style, and he, along with a star-studded cast of cinema _and_ stage-tested supporting actors, offers one more reason for watching what is a very entertaining movie and a classic tale.
|Living legend Rafael Álvarez (1950- ), "El Brujo," in one of his many stage performances.|