Directed by: Paolo Virzí
Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Golino, Fabrizio Gifuni, Matilde Gioli
Paolo Virzí has been firing out movies at a profligate rate of almost one per year since his 1994 debut La Bella Vita (not to be confused with his compatriot Roberto Benigni's 1997 WWII schmaltz fest). Most of his previous works are classified as comedies, which probably explains why they've failed to break out of the Italian domestic circuit, as colloquial humour rarely travels well. Human Capital is the first of his movies to receive an international release, and though it contains plenty of humour, of the blackest variety, it deals with a subject that effects every citizen of this spinning rock we call home: money.
The movie opts for the Rashomon template in order to tell its tale of greed, privilege and desperate social climbing. Initially, this set alarm bells ringing, as we've seen this technique used in a gimmicky fashion all too often, and the ensemble drama seems to have died with its Arch-Duke Robert Altman. Human Capital employs it so well that it's impossible to imagine this story being told any other way.
Broken into four sections, the first introduces us to Dino (Bentivoglio), a gauche, middle class social climber who sees his teenage daughter's relationship with the son of investment broker Giovanni (Gifuni) as a chance to climb the economic ladder, while skipping a few rungs. Given the opportunity to invest in shares, Dino lies to his bank manager in order to take out an all too risky loan of €700,000. Chapter two focuses on Giovanni's trophy wife Carla (Tedeschi), her attempts to reopen a rundown theatre and her awkward affair with said theatre's would be director. Chapter three brings Dino's daughter Serena (Gioli) - who had hovered in the background of the previous two chapters - to the fore. The final chapter ties in all three with a traffic accident witnessed in the movie's opening scene.
The ensemble assembled by Virzí, consisting of many actors previously associated with more comic performances, is fantastic. None of these performers were familiar to this reviewer, but I felt like I was watching a group of movie stars that I had known all my life. Bentivoglio is great as an arrogant, toad-like nebbish, whose ego is literally writing cheques he can't cash. Tedeschi - sister of singer-actress-former-first-lady of France, Carla Bruni - draws sympathy as the trophy wife who wants to become something more, but is stifled by playing mistress to her husband's first love of cold hard cash. Gifuni makes a great pantomime villain as the ruthless broker, like Gordon Gekko in the body of an Italian soccer star. Gioli, making her screen debut, steals the show in what could be the strongest role written for a young actress in quite some time, her character attempting to do the right thing while protecting those she loves, like Tom Hardy's Ivan Locke in knee high socks.
Throwing a bunch of characters into a pot and slowly bringing them to the boil, Virzí has effortlessly crafted the sort of ensemble drama the likes of Soderbergh, PT Anderson and Paul Haggis have struggled with in the past, and delivered one of the key films of 2014. Let's hope Human Capital won't be the last of his films to receive a release North of the Pyrenees.
By Eric Hillis