Italian cinema has long been fascinated with the lives of its rich and famous. From the works of Federico Fellini to recent films like The Great Beauty and I Am Love, filmmakers have attempted to use film as a way for audiences to empathize with society’s elite. One of the latest entries into this canon is Paolo Virzi’s Human Capital.
Human Capital centers around two interconnected Italian families – the Bernaschis and the Ossolas. The Bernaschis are a very wealthy family, headed by hedge fund manager Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni). Meanwhile the Ossolas live a more modest middle class lifestyle. Brought together by the love shared between their teenage children – Massimiliano Bernaschi and Serena Ossola – both sets of parents form a friendly (though mostly superficial) relationship. That bond is further solidified when Dino (Serena’s father) buys a share in Giovanni’s fund. These characters and their weak ties to each other are soon exposed however, following a fatal accident on the night before Christmas Eve.
We’re introduced to this world through the eyes of Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) – a bumbling idiot if I ever saw one – as he drops off his daughter (played by Matilde Gioli) at the Bernaschis’ luxurious mansion. The immortal lyrics of the O’ Jays’ “For the Love of Money” quickly come to mind as we gaze upon the lavish décor and amenities. These include a tennis court, which forms the basis of Dino’s unlikely connection to Giovanni. While perusing the estate, he’s invited to join in a tennis game and the two form a dynamic doubles pair. Quickly trying to insert himself into the Giovanni’s “in crowd”, Dino then buys in to a risky hedge fund to the tune of €700,000. Of course, you can guess where that thread is going.
The narrative is thereafter divided into further chapters, in order to present the film’s events from the perspectives of Carla (Giovanni’s wife) and Serena, all hinging on the pivotal accident (a flashback which opens the film). This cool storytelling device takes the plot in interesting directions but it suffers from its predictability. Like Dino’s subsequent financial woes, there’s a pervading sense that every plot twist is simply a matter of delaying the inevitable. The script gives too little room for interpretation with its obvious warning signs and therefore takes away some of the suspense.
Still, the film is entirely engrossing, thanks to the strong direction and engaging cast. As we connect the dots in the various narrative threads, Virzi’s focused directing style moves the story at a brisk pace, never allowing boredom to settle in. Furthermore, he takes an interesting approach to the central investigation in that the symbolism of wealth (in this case a conspicuous car) becomes a prime liability, rather than allowing a cover-up. It’s a nice change from other finance-related thrillers where the corrupt individuals start out with the upper hand based on their power.
There’s an intriguing premise at the heart of Human Capital, delivered with conviction by its fine cast (particularly Matilde Gioli in her debut performance). However, its lack of genuine surprises and an all too neat conclusion limit its impact. It’s an engaging, handsome production, but it’s ultimately too slight.
Human Capital will be released on January 14, 2014.
Human Capital is the Italian submission for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Click here for reviews of other official submissions.