In modern-day Italy two families, linked by a relationship between their teenage offspring, find themselves struggling with money, love, life, and responsibility. When the less than successful Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) drops his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) at her boyfriend’s house he finds himself playing tennis with the boy’s father Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni). Eager to impress and make some money from his wealthy new friend Dino takes out a loan to invest in a scheme run by Giovanni. As the period and setting might have alerted you this investment soon turns sour and Dino finds himself out of his depth and out of pocket. Meanwhile Giovanni’s wife Carla is trying to save a local theatre from extinction and is tempted away from her marital bed and elsewhere the young lovers Serena and Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) are no longer in love and after a drunken party a cyclist is run off the road but nobody claims to know who was driving.
As you can tell there is a lot going on in Human Capital and there is probably plenty that I have skipped over or just plain forgotten. There are a lot of strands to keep in your head once the film is done and the less interesting details may well slip from your memory as they have from mine. None of the characters feel like supporting roles as each and every actor is given a fully fleshed human being to bring to life on-screen. To lessen the impact of taking in the myriad of motifs writer/director Paolo Virzì separates the film into different chapters which follow the timeline of the film from start to finish, each from a different characters point of view. With each pass through events we learn something new about the disastrous goings on and delve deeper into a particular strand of the plot.
This spreading out of the plot into strands not only helps the audience to maintain a hold on what is taking place and follow each character’s journey without dilution it also serves to carve an element of mystery and revelation out of proceedings. Were we to be presented with all the information in chronological order there would be no mysteries to uncover or reveals to unveil. The unusual structure of the film allows for plot twists to occur without needless exposition or jarring flashbacks and while not a technique to change the face of film it is a neat device subtly executed. Human Capital is an engrossing and entertaining drama about human weakness and (allegedly) the value of human life. As the focus of the film shifts so will your sympathies and assumptions you make at the start will be tested by the end.
Being an Italian film commenting on the recent financial crisis, and being Italy’s entry into the upcoming Academy Awards, there is an inevitable need to compare Human Capital to last year’s The Great Beauty but theme and nationality aside the two could not be more different. While The Great Beauty was an examination of a single life and a particular lifestyle Human Capital is much more preoccupied with plot devices and character development than the lavish moods and styles of its predecessor. One is a painting and the other a novel and any comparisons are simply unhelpful.
Human Capital is an entertaining drama with a solid ensemble cast that occasionally puts a foot wrong when trying to get across its core message. A pleasant surprise and a little different from the norm.