Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Human Capital - Chicago International Film Festival

Last year, Italy's official entry for the Best Foreign Film for Hollywood's Academy Awards (each country is only allowed one entry) was La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), which did in fact, win the Oscar at this year's ceremony. At this year's David di Donatello awards in Italy (often referred to as Italy's Academy Awards), the prize for Best Film was given to Human Capital, directed by Paolo Virzi. Having seen both films, I'd say the di Donatello awards got it right; this is a wonderful piece of movie making and story telling.

The film's premise is a clever one; a luckless, unnamed individual rides his bicycle home one night after work, but is struck by an SUV, knocking him unconscious into a ditch. The film then tells us three different perspectives of what might have happened, as each chapter follows the fortunes of one individual, each of whom is linked to the other in various ways. This organization helps us understand the motives of not only these three people, but everyone else in the film. There's a great deal of deceit and self-centered behavior throughout the film, one that is populated largely by wealthy people (wealthy at least in terms of finances), yet there is at least one individual who has a soul and cares about the fortune of others.

As directed by Paolo Virzi, Human Capital unfolds both as a mystery as well as an examination into human behavior and in many ways, a look at the moral virtues of modern-day Italy. At the heart of the film is a story about the relationship of a wealthy capitalist Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) and his wife Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). He is setting up a fund that he is certain will bring his fellow investors a great return, as he is basing this on the economic collapse of foreign countries. He is constantly in meetings and has little time for his wife, who is bored, yet cannot find the strength to do much against his lack of emotion for her; surrounded by wealth, she does not wish to rock the boat.

We also follow the story of Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a simple man with a small business who needs money as his wife Roberta (Valeria Golino) is expecting twins; he meets Giovanni through a friendly tennis match and asks to be allowed as an investor in Giovanni's fund. Dino has to borrow from the bank to come up with the staggering sum he needs to join this group; he does so without telling Giovanni or his wife.

Meanwhile, Dino's daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) is attracted to Giovanni's son Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli), whose vehicle was the one that hit the poor soul on his bicycle. Whether or not Massimilliano was actually driving his SUV is a crux of the story; if he did, will Serena still be in love with him?

There are many strengths here and great credit must be given to the screenwriters Francesco Bruno, Francesco Piccoli and Virzi himself (the screenplay is based upon the novel by Stephen Amidon). The authors give us a world of three-dimensional characters, ones whose lives are incomplete, regardless of how much money or earthly possessions they have. In a key sequence, Carla sees an old theater that has fallen apart and she wishes to bring it back to life and create a new acting company. Her husband argues against it, but gives into her, apparently as his way of pleasing her. For Carla, this is her way of having something to do besides shopping and showing up at society functions, merely to please her husband. For Giovanni, this is the least he thinks he can do to show his wife how much he loves her.

The acting is first-rate throughout, as there are at least five noteworthy performances, especially from Tedeschi, Gifuni and Bentivolgio, and in smaller roles, Golino and Gioli. Tedeschi uses her voice remarkably well, her hushed tones representing her lack of emotional strength. As Serena, Gioli displays a natural quality that serves as a nice contrast to all the glamour and posh surroundings on the screen.

It is Serena who is the moral compass of this tale, as she desperately wants to help Massimiliano and as well as another troubled young man she befriends later in the film. There is wealth that is represented by money and belongings, but Virzi seems to be saying that real wealth comes from basic human virtues such as compassion, kindness and honest affection. What does someone profit if they gain money, yet lose the common touch?

Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) - directed by Paolo Virzi

To be shown at the AMC River East 21 Theater, 322 E. Illinois Street, Chicago

on Thursday, October 16 at 8:30 PM and on Friday, October 17 at 5:30 PM

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