Overview: Italy’s entry into this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar race tells the story of two families, each grappling with ambition, secrecy, desire and greed. Both forever linked by the hit-and-run accident from which this non-linear, multi-layered drama unspools. Limited US Release 2015. Unrated. 110 minutes. US Distribution: Film Movement.
He Said, She Said: The film, serving as a kind of Rashomon for modern day bourgeois Italy, is broken up into precise chapters, each highlighting a different individual’s side of the story. But rather than just focusing on “the story” at hand— the whodunit mystery surrounding the hit-and-run—the multiple stories the film presents and weaves together are actually far more complex and dramatic than this.
The 3 Chapters: The first chapter is from the perspective of Dino Ossala—the patriarch of the middle-class Ossala family—whose attempts at upward mobility are laughably embarrassing until they tragically fail, at which point his desperation and regret become palpable. The second chapter follows Carla Bernaschi (played by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who deservedly won accolades and awards for her performance here)—she is the wife of rich, hedge fund schemer, Giovanni (with whom Dino tries to be chummy, until his emotional and monetary investments both fall through). Her storyline details the lavish but unrewarding life of the posh Milan suburbs, a life that is stressful if only because of all this emptiness, meaninglessness, and superficiality; she tries to find purpose by taking on the task of revitalizing a decrepit local theater, but her dreams are shot down by her husband when their wealth seems to be at risk, and she has an affair with the would-be artistic director. The third section follows Dino’s daughter, Serena. She is the ex-girlfriend of the Bernaschis’ teenaged son, Massimiliano (who faces his own pressures at school and at home), and her tale is the most revealing when it comes to the accident itself, especially as her relationship with a new boy blossoms.
Finding a Balance: The film is fascinating and gripping and ultimately a success, but it does come dangerously close to buckling under the weight of its various strands. These strands, whether considered separately or as interconnected pieces of a whole, come across at times as commentary on the evils of capitalism, and at other times, as deeply riveting, complex character studies. But, those strands, wander as they may, are still braiding around and plummeting toward that hit-and-run, or so it seems; it would appear that the film faces an inner-conflict of its own—is it a commentary on capitalism, a series of complicated character studies, or a crime-drama with a mystery to be solved?
The answer is, ultimately, all of the above; it’s an ambitious tightrope walk to make, and any other director might have clumsily tumbled through adapting Stephen Amidon’s novel. But Paolo Virzi’s screenplay and direction capture all the nuances necessary to make the combination of goals and focuses work and feel mostly seamless, and his cast is talented enough to portray those nuances, too. And, the culminating chapter of the film feels like something way more meaningful, and certainly more haunting, than simply an easy answer to the film’s most obvious question. Even when the crime is solved, the aftermath is deeply entrenched in the mounting critiques of money, status, power, and privilege that had once seemed almost-extraneous. By the time we reach the film’s conclusion, we realize that those concerns—and the deeply human experiences through which we feel them—were what the film was actually leading with all along, as the hit-and-run proves to be nothing more than a consequence, manifestation and symbolic of those themes. Overall, Human Capital is an entertaining and well-executed feat that satisfies these multiple aims.