Human Capital , drama, not rated, in Italian with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles
The “overlapping story lines” trope has been used to great, and popular, effect over the years, in films from Rashomon to Pulp Fiction . If you really dislike this style of moviemaking — let’s say Crash turned you off permanently, and rightly so — you might prefer to skip this Italian drama based on an American novel and directed by Paolo Virzì. If you can tolerate jumbled timelines and perspectives, though, Human Capital is engaging entertainment with a little social commentary mixed in. It won the 2013 David di Donatello best picture award, the Italian equivalent of an Oscar.
The film opens with a waiter sweeping up confetti after a party and then bundling up for his bike ride home. He’s not a major player in the drama that’s about to unfold, but an awful lot of it hinges on him. The rest of the story is presented in chapters, each from the point of view of a different character.
Flash back six months. Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is dropping his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) at her boyfriend’s house. His eyes get as big as saucers as he drives through the family’s swanky estate. Over on the tennis court, Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) is playing a match with his cronies and needs a partner. Social-climbing Dino jumps at the chance, seeing it as a way into this enviable world.
A struggling middle-class realtor feeling the effects of the great recession, Dino is sure his luck would change if only he could invest in Bernaschi’s hedge fund. The only way he’ll be able to make that happen, though, is by lying to his bank and his newly pregnant girlfriend (Valeria Golino). By the way, Giovanni has a wife, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), and a son, Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) — he’s the one dating Dino’s daughter — and both will also play critical parts in this story.
Sounds like a soap opera, right? Yes, Human Capital is the sort of film that risks getting bogged down in melodrama. You’ll detect echoes of The Great Gatsby here, and for a while you might think this is going to be one of those cautionary tales about a hapless guy who makes terrible choices, with disastrous, cringe-worthy results (William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo comes to mind). Instead, it balances entertainment and social critique, shaping up as a stylish blend of morality play and murder mystery. It compares and contrasts characters’ perspectives, illustrating the ways in which we get caught up in our own dramas — the ways class, gender, age, or a combination of those things can cause us to overlook or misinterpret one other. The handsome settings, both natural and man-made, and a suspenseful soundtrack will keep you engrossed, even if the ending is a bit abrupt and ambiguous.
The film takes its title from insurance jargon used when calculating the value of a human life. Most of what happens during its running time is driven by the conviction that society isn’t made up of “haves and have-nots” but “haves and soon-to-haves.” It’s sad that so many of us still seem to think that your value as a human is based on how much money you possess.
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Fabrizio Gifuni