What is the value of human life? How much is your own life worth? You may not be able to put a price on it, but insurance companies surely can. As we are reminded in Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano, Italy, 2013), there’s even a formula to quantify a person’s financial worth based on “life expectancy, earning capacity, quantity and quality of emotional bonds.”
Virzì’s career has been marked by successes like The Good Life (La bella vita, 1994) and The First Beautiful Thing (La prima cosa bella, 2010), and his upcoming Like Crazy (La pazza gioia, 2016) is already making waves. Human Capital, which was selected for the coveted Friday night slot of Film Club 3.0’s Lost Weekend III, won dozens of awards at festivals around the world, including Italy’s Golden Globe for Best Film (Globo d’oro, 2014). Virzì based the screenplay on American author Stephen Amidon’s novel of the same name, but he transports the action from wealthy, pre-9/11 Connecticut suburbs to Italy’s affluent Brianza region more than a decade later.
The film’s opening sequence is set at a swanky private school awards ceremony a couple of nights before Christmas. This prologue of sorts introduces a nameless waiter who, after cleaning up the confetti-strewn mess made by the attendees, heads home on his bicycle. The accident that follows serves as the anchor for the rest of the film, which vacillates between the evening of the awards ceremony and a period of several days set six months later.
As the action unfolds, it shifts not only in time but also in perspective. Chapter I focuses on Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), owner of a real estate company who risks his family’s modest fortune in hopes of joining the ranks of the super-rich when he invests in a hedge fund run by Milan-based tycoon Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni). Chapter II revolves around Giovanni’s pampered wife Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who is also the mother of Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli). Chapter III’s protagonist is Dino’s daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli), a teenager grappling with her troubled relationship with stepmother Roberta (Valeria Golino) and trying to break free from her role as the one who shields ex-boyfriend Massimiliano from his father’s searing disapproval. In the final chapter, simply titled “Human Capital,” the three storylines converge as the mystery surrounding the accident is resolved.
Human Capital‘s real star is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Carla, a middle-aged woman who after years of overindulging her son and spending her husband’s money takes on a project of her own. Tedeschi’s Carla exudes a sexual charisma that is offset by near-crippling insecurity, and her internal struggle reflects the film’s larger message about a divided country in a time of crisis. Carla’s spiritual reawakening comes to a head in her final scene with Giovanni—“You bet on the downfall of this country and you won,” she remarks—which is the highlight of the film.
If you missed Film Club 3.0’s screening of Human Capital during the Lost Weekend III, you’re in luck. The DVD was released on July 7, and it’s available to stream online via Amazon and iTunes.