In a year in which scathing assessments of the causes, repercussions, and continued failures from the 2008 financial collapse have often taken center stage, it’s nice to have a set of eyes across the Atlantic take it all in and give us another perspective on financial greed. 2013’s Human Capital (Il capitale umano), from Italy’s Paolo Virzi, gives us a glimpse of what happened during his country’s economic meltdown of 2010. Characters from every walk of life intertwine in a story that unfolds in four chapters, each one giving us a different point of view of the central, biting issue of the movie – the fatal hit and run of a working class waiter. Every character is affected by this event, and while lives are turned upside down by the engaging, unfolding narrative, the resolution of it all leaves much to be desired.
We start out with Dino, played by Fabrizio Bentivoglio. Dino is head of a small real estate firm, has an ego too big for his own trousers, and he’s on his way to drop off his daughter, Selena (Matilde Gioli), at her thought-to-be-current boyfriend’s house. Dino is astounded by the wealth of the family and the size of the Italian homestead, and he manages to work his way into a tennis doubles match partnered with the young man’s father Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni). After decimating the competition, Dino reveals the real reason why he wanted to be so up-close and personal with Giovanni today. Dino wants in on a major investment deal that Giovanni is heading, one that could yield 40-50 percent returns. Buying into the deal isn’t cheap though – the cost is at least €500,000 – but Dino assures that he can easily put in €700,000. Immediately Dino is playing a little bit of fraud with his bank, selling the manager on a phony real estate plan and putting his house up as collateral, a house that is actually in Selena’s name since Dino and her mother divorced. Needless to say, Giovanni’s investment deal does not pan out with the immediate returns that Dino expected, and he finds himself avoiding angry phone calls from the bank while trying to play cat-and-mouse with a rival real estate firm that has bought him out.
On Giovanni’s side of the tale, his wife Carla (Valeria Bruna Tedeschi) is fraught with disdain for her wealthy lifestyle, but when she learns that a local theater is on the block to be sold and transformed into apartments, she convinces Giovanni to buy it so she can run it and renovate it. Everything goes well. The spark hops back in Carla’s life, but when Giovanni’s investment fails to yield the returns he expected, Giovanni’s hands are tied. He has to sell off whatever assets he can sacrifice. He has chosen Carla’s theater, selling it to a firm that will turn it into apartments after all.
Then we have Selena, who we learn has broken up with her boyfriend Massimilio (Guglielmo Punelli) long before the story even begins. The young man is obsessed with her, though, and her life is constantly pulled back to bailing him out. Selena finds herself drawn to another young man named Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo) who has fallen out of favor with the kids at her academy because of a supposed drug possession charge that he’s agreed to atone for with regular therapy sessions. Selena and Luca fall madly in love, but everything is thrown out of alignment with Massimilio’s constant neediness and failure to move on.
All of these stories circulate around the fatal hit and run accident that we see in the first five minutes. Watching them unfold and learning how these people are related to that event and eventually learning who committed the crime keeps the viewer on the edge of his or her seat. Human Capital really is a fascinating movie, and seeing each chapter as told from relatively the same starting point six months before the accident gives us the unique perspective of each character and what their opinions are of everyone else. Dino is a sniveling jerk that nobody likes, while Massimilio really isn’t a bad guy. His father just has him on a tight leash of inflated expectations, and it’s driving him crazy. Each of these stories gives us a take on a financial collapse that destroyed multiple economies and now has the Eurozone on the brink of disintegration. Dino is the moron investor buying stocks on margin and finding himself up the creek when the bank comes looking for their money. Giovanni is practically the bank itself reducing everything wonderful about life to a percentage whose value is weighed against the potential yields or losses of an investment. Selena, Luca, and Massimilio are the younger generation, who ultimately are the ones who get screwed in a financial collapse when they inherit the mistakes of their parents and wind up having to foot the bill. Everything about Human Capital adds up to an engaging, entertaining movie that promises new observations and excitements every time it’s watched.
The problem with Human Capital, though, and what ultimately kills it, is the end. Falling short of spoiling the movie, it’s as though the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted a happy ending or a tragic ending, and so they decided to do both. After building us up with an amazing batch of stories that are as precisely connected as a handmade clock, this failure to commit to either tragedy or happiness ruins the experience right before the credits roll. Every story lives or dies with the strength of its ending, because the end is what the audience walks away with. It’s the moment that will be remembered most, and in Human Capital’s case the ending derails what is an otherwise remarkable achievement. Human Capital accomplishes everything it needs to right up to the end, but it’s still a movie worth watching, brilliantly constructed and unraveling like any good mystery. Watch it on Netflix and make it show up under “Trending Now.” Get some good indie blood into the world, although this writer is left wishing for a little bit more.
Nicholas lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with his cat and various MMO personas. After graduating from Roanoke College with a BA in English in 2003, he worked maintenance at a hotel before switching over to full-time barista, which he has done ever since. Writing, however, has always been his first passion, and after waking up one morning and deciding more training was needed he enrolled in Hollins University’s Screenwriting and Film Studies MFA program. Now a proud graduate with another mountain of student debt to pay off, Nicholas writes as much as possible and loves every second of it. Read his recent book THE BLADE & THE WING!