Human Capital

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday February 13, 2015

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi stars in 'Human Capital'
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi stars in 'Human Capital'  (Source:Loris T. Zambelli)

Paolo Virzž's film "Human Capital," adapted from the novel by Stephen Amidon, is set in 2010 -- in the midst of the global financial crisis.

Two families are embroiled in events that swirl around a late night hit and run accident involving a working man on a bicycle. One family is headed up by the grasping, inadequate Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio); the other by a wealthy, well-groomed hedge fund manager named Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni). The two men have a couple of points of contact, the most visible of which is that Bernaschi's son, Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) is dating Dino's daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli). The other connection they share is a large sum of money that Dino has obtained through fraud in order to buy into Bernaschi's newest fund -- an investment he's been told will yield a 40% return.

The movie's first gag (for it is possible to read this as an astringent, pitch-black comedy) is the tangential connection of the financier to the victim. The police trace the offending vehicle back to Massimiliano, but was the young man at the wheel? The cops, the public and even Bernasci himself all seem willing to accept this theory as a given, because what more fitting symbol could there be for the way the financial crisis mangled average people while leaving the rich unscathed (not to mention letting them off scot-free)?

But emotional carnage of all sorts -- romantic, sexual, marital -- abounds here, the outcome of people keeping secrets or holding on to assumptions about others' worth, or their own. Serena insists that she drove Massimiliano home in her step-mother's car no the night in question while some other party saw to getting Massimiliano's SUV back home. (She offers up the names of some schoolmates, sparking still more trouble.) Bruneschi, dealing with his company's financial straits, all but abandons his son emotionally, and refuses to entrust his wife with his worries. Dino is all too happy to sell out his daughter when to do so will serve his own interests. Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Massimiliano's mother, is willing to set facile interpretations and media-ready official stories aside and invest enough faith in the possibility of her son's innocence to look deeper into the night's tragic events.

Not all is as it seems, and the movie tackles the possibilities with gusto. There are four chapters to this film, the first three each being told from a specific point of view -- first Dino's, then Carla's, and then Serena's, which is where we learn the truth. A fourth chapter takes no particular point of view; it's simply a follow-up to show the aftermath. This isn't "Rashomon" so much as "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" or "Elephant," with each character's path criss-crossing those of the other characters until we see a much larger canvas, and a much richer matrix of results and causalities that pull a number of secondary characters into its vortex, including Carla's pregnant stepmother Roberta (Valeria Golino), a psychologist; one of Roberta's patients, a young man named Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo), wrongly shunned by his peers for an arrest involving drugs that didn't belong to him; and a youthful, idealistic professor of theater named Donato (Luigi Lo Cascio), whom Carla recruits to serve as the artistic director for a theater she's trying to refurbish and re-open.

A slate of strong performances mark the movie out and make it memorable. (Poor Pinelli doesn't get the best chance to make his mark, with his character written as sulky, whiny, and pretty much insufferable.) Gioli, as Serena, is radiant; she commands the screen, even when Serena's actions belie her otherwise smart, collected persona. Tedeschi, who bears some resemblance to Edi Falco, brings Carmela Soprano to mind in her mixture of cluelessness over her husband's dealings and the ambitions she harbors for the money he brings in. But she also strikes a melancholic tone, fretting as she does about the demise of culture and, correspondingly, the decline of the country's political and economic stability.

This is a far from perfect film, with some clunky (or maybe awkwardly translated) dialogue, personal dramas that stack onto and intersect with one another all too neatly, and wild character inconsistencies. Then again, nothing here is stranger or more erratic than the events one might observe in real life -- and in that way, "Human Capital" strike close to the bone.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.