Recently acquired by Film Movement, and a huge box-office hit in Italy, “Human Capital” tells the story of unchecked financial speculation, naïve admiration of wealth and dehumanization by dwindling life down to a dollar sign. While this is a somewhat familiar tale, director Paolo Virzí adds nuance with a carefully structured screenplay and a unique visual style.
The source material comes from Stephen Amidon’s novel of the same title. Originally based in Connecticut, Virzí and co-screenwriters Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo decided to set the story in Italy to capture just how universal these themes are and how connected we are to the same vulnerabilities.
The structure of the film is divided into chapters, each approaching the story from a different character’s viewpoint. In the prologue, a cyclist is driven off the road by an unknown driver, introducing a quasi film noir tone to the story. Each chapter then builds up to the same night from different perspectives.
Chapter one, “Dino,” allows us to enter the world of Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a real estate agent who so desperately wants to be part of the “one percent” that he mortgages his business and his home in order to invest in a risky hedge fund. Dino’s path is set in motion while dropping off his daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli), at the famous Giovanni Bernashci estate.
Chapter two focuses on Giovanni’s wife, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a misplaced housewife who spends her days shopping. While certainly as morally flexible as every other character in “Capital,” Carla gains the most sympathy as she wanders through life more like a lost puppy dog – opposed to the eager opportunism of Dino and Giovanni. Winner of best actress at the Tribeca Film Festival, Tedeschi, captures the role of Carla with such illusive anguish it becomes hard to breathe.
Dino’s daughter, Serena, is the central character in chapter three where the film seems to go into thriller mode at a hurried pace. There’s still the mystery of the injured cyclist and chapter three intertwines previous events leading up to an unveiling.
We’ve seen all these devices before: the mysterious opening teaser, the tale told in chapters…but somehow under Virzí’s direction it seems new and fresh. It’s not about the telling but what lies beneath the surface. There are really no pure good guys or pure bad guys; there is just one long gray cloud where everyone dukes it out for survival the only way they know how.
Their survival can be determined by what insurance adjusters refer to as human capital — an algorithm that combines various parameters to determine the value of a person’s life. And in a world where a person’s value can be determined by a number, an investment in the future of humanity looks sort of bearish.
DIRECTOR: Paolo Virzí SCREENWRITERS: Paolo Virzí, Francesco Bruni, Fabrizio Donvito CAST: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Golino, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrizio Gifuni, Matilde Fioli, Guglielmo Pinelli, Giovanni Anzaldo