Directed by Paolo Virzì
Starring: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Based on novel Human Capital by Stephen Amidon
In theaters starting Feb. 13 (exclusively at Kendall Square Cinema)
Human Capital is an Italian drama with an air of mystery. The film revolves around two families of very different social statuses as their lives are thrown together and torn apart by a single tragic accident. While the film certainly has the thrill and suspense of a whodunit mystery, make no mistake: this film is a socio-economic commentary through and through.
The nonlinear format of the movie is immediately intriguing. The narrative is divided into three distinct, yet intersecting chapters, each focusing on a specific character’s point of view. Each of the three chapters switches between past, present, and future events though it is always clear which we are viewing. Furthermore, the three storylines interweave as the characters interact. This is a particular strength of this narrative technique as we are able to view the same group of important events through the lenses of three separate characters. Through the eyes of Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), and Serena (Matilde Gioli), the viewer discovers the finer details of the dynamics between characters and each of their roles in the overall scheme of the film.
The commentary on class is introduced in the first five minutes of the film. The first character we see is a hardworking laborer clearing dirty dishes after a party. The evening takes a devastating turn for the man as he bikes home from work and is run over by an SUV. The connection between this horrible event and the narratives of the three characters is revealed as the plot unfolds. Interweaved throughout this whodunit is a story of loves and hopes both gained and lost and strong themes of familial discord — experiences that seem to transcend social and economic boundaries.
The first chapter of the film introduces us to Dino Ossola, a middle class real estate agent with clear aspirations for wealth and power. The film does an excellent job of showing rather than telling; Dino’s get-rich-quick plan dawns on us just as it dawns upon him. Dino’s daughter, Serena, is dating Massimiliano — the son of a powerful hedge fund investor, Giovanni Bernaschi. Dino meets Giovanni as he is dropping Serena off at the Bernaschi residence, and as fate would have it, Giovanni is in need of a tennis partner. Inspired by their powerhouse teamwork on the tennis court, Dino and Giovanni strike a deal: Dino is invited to buy into the infamous Bernaschi fund, which promises 40 percent returns, granted that Dino can provide the minimum share price: 500,000 euros.
Of course, we know that Dino’s business is all but underwater. After all, he has recently fired all of his employes and his office is as large as a closet. Without consulting his family, Dino rushes to the bank and mortgages his home for a 700,000 euro loan.
The second chapter follows Carla Bernaschi, Massimiliano’s mother and Giovanni’s wife. Carla lives a comfortable life — she is chauffeured around all day to massages, manicures, and shopping malls. However, it is clear that Carla feels unfulfilled as a trophy wife and yearns for the days she spent working as an amateur actress.
Carla discovers a foreclosed theater and insists that it be restored. She cajoles her husband into buying it and her entire outlook on life improves. Carla finally has something to live for — perhaps she can restore a crumbling building in a way that she cannot restore her crumbling family. But her dreams are quickly demolished by her husband’s businesslike indifference. His financial advisors convince him to replace the theater with apartments. Carla is devastated and we can tell through her actions that she has hit rock bottom and throws all of her energy into trying to transform her troubled and emotionally distant family into a happy one.
In the third chapter, we discover that Serena’s relationship with Massimiliano isn’t quite what it seems. Much to her surprise, Serena falls in love with a poor and troubled boy, Luca. She learns that Luca was raised by his uncle who forced him to take the blame when police found drugs in their apartment. Serena tries to protect Luca from being further involved in his uncle’s drug trade. Things are complicated further when Massimiliano gets dangerously drunk at a party after a tense evening with his father. Massimiliano is implicated in the hit and run we witnessed at the beginning of the film when his ostentatious SUV is seen racing away from the critically injured cyclist. Unfortunately for the police, it isn’t clear who was driving that night. They would like to pin the accident on a drunken Massimiliano but Serena insists that she drove him home that night and that someone else drove his SUV.
Dino discovers an email between his daughter and Luca and he believes he has found the truth of the night’s events, a truth in which Massimiliano is innocent. Dino has no moral qualms about selling the information to the Bernaschis, who are eager to clear their son’s name. Dino retained only 10 percent of his investment and is at risk of losing his home and the respect of his family. Carla is as desperate for her son’s innocence as Dino is to recover his initial investment along with the returns he was promised. They strike a deal and the consequences are dire.
It almost doesn’t matter who is guilty. If Massimiliano is at fault, he will be arrested for killing a man while driving drunk, but surely his incredibly wealthy parents will find a way to keep him out of court. If, on the other hand, Luca is guilty, as a poor and ostracized orphan with a rap sheet (deserved or not), he doesn’t stand a chance. We know that Massimiliano and Luca both have troubled family lives, but Massimiliano is unlikable and abusive to Serena while Luca is wrongfully accused of a drug crime and is Serena’s most trustworthy friend. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how good of a person you are, if your status in society is not up to par: the odds are always against you.
Human Capital is a masterfully crafted commentary on the ways that social class influences people’s goals, actions, and regard for others. Is having everything money can buy worth living an unfulfilling life? How far should one be willing to go to climb the social ladder? The film raises these questions and more, but the message is clear: the price of greed is paid in human capital.