Human Capital (Il capitale umano) – Movie Review


Human Capital (Il capitale umano) – Reviewed by David Turpin

Directed by Paolo Virzì

Starring: Fabrizio Bentivolgio, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrizio Gifuni

A box office hit in Italy, Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital is a smoothly assembled entertainment that might best be described as a kind of leftist soap opera. Adapted from a novel by Stephen Amidon, but relocated from Connecticut to the wealthy region of Brianza (near Milan), the film involves two families whose fates become entangled after a cyclist is hit off the road by a Jeep. The film is divided into four “chapters” each dealing with a different character – a formal device that seems sharper in Italian, as the onscreen word “capitol” (“chapter”) repeatedly echoes the film’s title, and lends the story a sense of import it might not otherwise possess.

The first chapter, focusing on Dino (Fabrizio Bentivolgio), a wheedling would-be social climber, most clearly articulates the film’s political thesis – that the “little people” are dispensable and/or interchangeable for the powerful. There are shades of Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross to Bentivolgio as Dino’s hopelessly naïve schemes unravel, although he is ultimately a less sympathetic character. Valeria Golino makes the most of an underwritten part as Dino’s wife, one of the few wholly sympathetic characters in the piece.

The next chapter deals with Carla, the wife of the cold-blooded hedge-fund manager (Fabrizio Gifuni) with whom Dino unwisely attempts to ally himself. Adroitly if unsurprisingly cast, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi delivers the expected agitated fragility (arguably her default setting since Patrice Chérau’s Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train in 1998), with costume designer Bettina Pontiggia outfitting her in absurdly high heels that seem to transform her every movement into a nervous totter. Her on-screen husband’s passing resemblance to her real-life brother-in-law Nicolas Sarkozy adds a further gossipy twinge to the proceedings. Carla’s chapter carries certain narrative echoes of Luca Guadagnino’s ravishing 2009 melodrama I Am Love, which featured Tilda Swinton as the trophy wife of another wealthy Milanese family. However, Virzì’s film is both less operatic than Guadagnino’s and more downbeat – in place of I Am Love’s thunderous liberation, Human Capital offers Carla a ferocious dressing down, which Bruni effectively underplays, having skirted hysteria for much of the rest of the film. Like I Am Love, Human Capital also features a sex scene that narrowly skirts the ludicrous.

The third chapter, deals with Dino’s daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli). Serena, initially little more than a background presence, emerges not only as the link between the two families, but as the keeper of the resolution to the film’s central mystery. As such, her chapter is more plot-driven than the others, and finds the film swerving into fairly generic crime territory, although Gioli herself (making her film debut) is excellent.

Engrossing but hardly revolutionary, Human Capital ultimately softens its focus on social commentary to make way for some fairly sudsy drama. Though that may disappoint some viewers, the craftsmanship of Virzì’s direction is such that few are likely to be bored.

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