Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paolo Virzi
Stars: Fabrizio Gifuni, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Golina, Guglielmo Pinelli, Giovanni Anzaldo.
Human capital is the term used to describe the way in which insurance companies calculate the amount to reimburse the victim’s family following injury or death. In other words, it is a complex formula that puts a monetary value on a human life.
Set in Italy’s affluent north, this dark and potent drama explores themes of class, power, wealth, greed, secrets and lies. The film is actually based on the novel of the same name written by American author Stephen Amidon. Writer and director Paolo Virzi has transplanted the story from its Connecticut setting to Italy, but its themes of greed and capitalism and financial chicanery translate perfectly to the European location as Italy is still suffering financial uncertainty in the wake of the global economic collapse.
When the film opens, a waiter riding home on his bicycle is hit by a car, which then drives off. The hit and run accident entwines a couple of families from different social status. All the characters here are flawed in some way, they are desperate, needy and greedy, and self-absorbed.
Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni, from Hannibal, etc) is a wealthy banker, so heavily involved in some shady banking deals that he is largely neglecting his bored and insecure trophy wife Carla (played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, from the semi-autobiographical A Castle In Italy, etc) and his teenaged son Massimiliano (newcomer Guglielmo Pinelli). And at first all the evidence points to Massimiliano as the culprit behind the accident.
Dino Ossala (played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is a real estate agent desperate to climb the social ladder. He trades on his daughter’s relationship with Massimiliano to buy his way into a high risk speculative investment fund. Lacking ready funds himself, he manages to lie to his banker to borrow enough money to buy into the scheme. He puts up both his home and his business as collateral. But when the investment fails, Dino desperately tries to recoup his losses by ruining the lives of Bernaschi’s family.
Meanwhile his daughter Serena (newcomer Matilde Gioli) becomes drawn towards a troubled artist, and the nature of her relationship with Massimiliano is a lot more complicated.
The film unfolds in three overlapping chapters, each of which is named for one of the main characters, and follows the same series of events in the lead up to the accident. These give us a different perspective on events. It also heightens the sense of mystery surrounding events, but also allows director Virzi to explore the various personal dramas facing the characters. A fourth chapter then sheds light on the aftermath of these events and brings matters to a close. But given the nature of the material there are no happy endings for the people involved.
As well as an intriguing mystery, the film is also an absorbing moral drama, grim social commentary on the state of Italy today, and revealing critique of capitalism. The film follows a nonlinear structure, but Virzi juggles the complicated narrative structure well, making it easy for audiences to follow the twists.
Taking a break from her usual lightweight comic roles, Tedeschi brings a vulnerability and a nervous quality to her role as the lonely Carla, who feels neglected by her husband. Cast largely against type, Bentivoglio makes his ingratiating and smarmy Dino an instantly unlikeable and grasping character. Gifuni brings a superficial charm to his performance. Valeria Golina is fine in a small role as Serena’s stepmother Roberta, one of the few sympathetic characters in the film.
Cinematographers Jerome Almeras and Simon Beaufils bring a cold visual style to the film, which perfectly suits its downbeat tone and ominous air of foreboding.
Human Capital is Italy’s official submission for consideration in the Foreign Language category for the 2015 Oscars.