Human Capital Dir. Paolo Virzi

[Film Movement; 2015]

Styles: ensemble drama
Others: Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Crash (2004)

Income inequality is a hot button issue and tag phrase thrown about everywhere from President Obama’s speeches to your Facebook and Twitter feeds. The all-encompassing 99% debate makes it both a tempting topic for filmmakers to tackle and a feeding ground for ideologues, so for all of Human Capital’s faults, we must at least remain grateful that director Paolo Virzi mercifully uses a chisel where a hammer would more commonly be applied. Telling its story in three chapters, each attached to the perspective of one of its characters both before and after a tragic hit-and-run accident leaves a working class man dead by the side of the road, Human Capital treads similar structural and thematic ground as Crash and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s first three films, coming away with some of the advantages of the latter films and the weaknesses of all.

The prologue occurs as the credits roll and the aforementioned accident happens so quickly and at first appears so harmless that one could have blinked and missed it. It’s a bold and fascinating way to start the film, mirroring that character’s nearly throw-away value to the film’s ultimate protagonists and, unfortunately, to the film itself, yet sets up the remainder of the film as part mystery and part social commentary. The first chapter is centered on Dino, a well-to-do though not obnoxiously wealthy man who scams his banker friend into loaning him 700,000 Euros with his house as collateral to invest in an exclusive fund of his daughter’s boyfriend’s father, the obnoxiously wealthy Giovanni Bernaschi. Unsurprisingly, Dino and Giovanni’s new-budding friendship takes a turn for the worse as the fund takes a brutal downturn leaving Dino’s initial investment in jeopardy as his initially amusingly reckless yet likeable demeanor slides into one more sinister. Fabrizio Bentivoglio gives the standout performance in the film here bringing pathos and complexity to what could have been a character as one-dimensional as the rest of Human Capital’s.

The second chapter shifts to Carla, Giovanni’s wife, who struggles with her powerless role as trophy wife and disrespected mother of Massimiliano, who may or may not have been driving his parents’ car when the aforementioned hit-and-run occurred. This segment is the least driven by narrative, focusing instead on the disconnect and misunderstandings between Carla and the two men in her life. Her lack of agency recurs in a crucial moment with another female character in the next chapter, but adds little in terms of the story being told. The sense of being ignored and marginalized lands a few strong blows in her helpless attempts to regain a feeling of importance by helming a group to keep a local theater from growing under, but her perspective as disengaged observer only serves to hammer home the point that women, especially in this world of absurd wealth and privilege, only retain as much power as the patriarchs allow them. It’s certainly a point worth making, but the segment feels more like an aside or sequence stretched into a full act.

The final chapter follows Serena, Dino’s daughter and Massimiliano, and fortunately contains a love story and mystery that stands on its own rather than merely setting up future revelations and weaving the oh-so-complex web that is upper crust Italian society. It is here we learn of Serena’s secret relationship with Luca, a teen stuck with the unwarranted reputation of drug dealer, and undying protection for him in every way. The segment connects us again with Dino’s narrative and hammers home the film’s world view, revealing the men to all be boorish and bullheaded and the women mere cogs in their social and business affairs. Its cynicism is much appreciated, but for all the intertwining of characters and fates, complexities and shades of actual human behavior would have been much appreciated.

As with the rest of Human Capital, the drama remains understated in the final act, but the misinterpretations and calculated behavior that veers it towards its unexpected yet completely unsurprising conclusion only reveal the machinations of the screenplay and its one-dimensional representations of gender and power. Even in its attempts for portraying a layered fabric of society, its folds are too neat and clean to garner much of an emotional impact. Its slick veneer provides a great-looking film but cannot hide the simplicity of its contempt or the predestined guiding of its writer’s pen. For a film called Human Capital, there’s a disappointing lack of humanity on-screen, and it’s not intellectually rigorous enough to make up for that absence.

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