The sleek, elegant Italian drama Human Capital opens with an accident: A waiter riding his bike home at night after work is run off the road by a car and may or may not have survived. The details are intentionally obscured, so we don’t know who the culprit is or what the circumstances were.
Then director Paolo Virzi begins to circle back on the days leading up to the accident, splitting the story into chapters told through the eyes of specific protagonists: Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a husband and father whose wife is expecting twins. Dino is a poser who longs to break out of his upper middle-class existence and lead the life of the fabulously wealthy in Milan. His daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) happens to be dating the son of a rich hedge fund manager, Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni), who takes the braggart Dino at his word during a tennis match and invites him to invest a small fortune in a scheme that promises to make him rich.
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The second chapter follows Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Giovanni’s pampered wife, a failed actress constantly looking for something to do with her time. She becomes obsessed with renovating a dilapidated, historic theater. The third chapter tracks Serena, who like most everyone else in the film harbors secrets. Instead of her rich boyfriend, she’s actually in love with a struggling artist (Giovanni Anzaldo) whose forearms are scarred by failed suicide attempts and whose mental state is fragile.
Based on the novel by the American writer Stephen Amidon, Human Capital transplants the action from Connecticut to a wealthy suburb of Milan, but the theme remains the same: In our rush to attain supposed happiness through money and power, we often overlook the things that really matter and make us truly happy — love, health, companionship and human connections.
The fourth chapter in Human Capital takes an omniscient point of view, tying all the film’s plot strands together in the vague shape of a thriller and bringing the story to a bitterly ironic but satisfying end. Not all of the characters in the movie get just and fair send-offs, but Virzi’s stylish picture argues that’s the price we pay when a capitalist society trains us to place our own selfish interests above everything else. It’s a rat race that ultimately has no winners.
Cast: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Valeria Golino, Fabrizio Gifuni, Luigi Lo Cascio, Giovanni Anzaldo, Matilde Gioli, Guglielmo Pinelli.
Director: Paolo Virzi.
Screenwriters: Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo, Paolo Virzi. Based on the novel by Stephen Amidon.
A Film Movement release. Running time: 111 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In Italian with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade: Miami Beach Cinematheque.