The telling of stories from multiple perspectives is not new to cinema and such an approach is most effective when each ‘version’ of events not only tells/shows us something new about the person from whose perspective we are watching things play out, but also offers insight into the people around them and the broader world they inhabit. An adaptation of an American novel in which the events have been transplanted to Italy, Human Capital is told via a series of chapters, each of which focuses on a particular character in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, an incident that leaves a cyclist fighting for life in hospital. Directed by Paolo Verzi, who also wrote the screenplay drawn from Stephen Amidon’s novel of the same name, Human Capital is a story that revolves around the interactions between the various members of two Italian families; characters who alternate between what they are and what they want to be. A brief opening segment sets things up when a cyclist is hit by a car late at night and left for dead on the side of the road. Each time we see the events play out from a different point of view, we become privy to little nuggets of information that offer clues to what really happened, however it isn’t until the final chapter that we discover what transpired and who was responsible.
Each episode begins a few months prior to the fateful accident and the first revolves around the hapless Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a real-estate agent who, desperate to improve his lot in life, borrows a substantial amount to join an investment scheme run by the filthy rich Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni), the father of his daughter’s boyfriend. Played by Bentivoglio as a buffoon, it goes without saying that Dino finds himself in a right pickle when things don’t pan out as expected. This guy is such a goose that you really find yourself hoping that it all goes horribly wrong for him and you simply cannot fathom how he has nabbed himself an attractive, intelligent new wife (Valeria Golino). It is very much reminiscent of Woody Allen so often casting himself alongside his various muses-of-the-moment; couplings that always seemed a bit creepy.
Giovanni, an arrogant, detestable man who refers to his parents as morons and his son as a loser, is married to Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), a former actress who, having forsaken her career for a life of meaningless extravagance, is desperate for something – or somebody – to occupy her time. Carla is a victim of the life she has chosen for herself and, although her husband pays her no mind, her tale of woe amidst exorbitant wealth is a little hard to cop. Furthermore, her story – which revolves around an attempt to renovate a derelict theatre and a dalliance with a drama teacher – is somewhat laboured and a little bit ludicrous to boot.
The second half of the movie is much more interesting and engaging, perhaps in part to a strong performance from Matilde Gioli as Serena, Dino’s teenage daughter. Throughout the first half of the film, Serena flits in and out for only the briefest of moments and it is only when we follow her for an extended period that things get really interesting. Serena finds herself caught in a lie with regard to her relationship with Massimiliano – the son of Giovanni and Carla – and then when she meets troubled artist Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo), her life is complicated further.
The Italy presented here is a cold, heartless world in which the rich get richer with little regard for anybody who might get hurt along the way. One reviewer quite rightly described Human Capital as “the most revolting selection of male characters in a film I have seen this year”. However, redemption comes via the performances of Golino – whose Roberta is by far the most likeable of the group – and newcomer Gioli. Given that this story could be transplanted to almost anywhere in the world, it is not hard to imagine an American version emerging sometime in the future and I can’t help but feel that this is one occasion where a remake in the right hands (David Fincher?) could really make this material soar.