Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 5:34 pm 
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Class crash

Il capitale umano, from Stephen Amidon's 2004 novel set in Connecticut, is transferred to industrialist northern Italy in Paolo Virzì's new film about scandal and greed. The Italian settings are Varese and Como, an hour from Milan. He starts with a dangerous encounter between cyclist and SUV, and continues with three flashbacks focusing on different characters tied to this event. Social satire blends with elements of a mystery story, the whodunit aspects taking over toward the end. Virzì's social comedies have a tendency to merge into overly busy melodrama. This time he's used the tired multiple-point-of view device exploited all too successfully with Haggis' Crash and Iñárritu's more earnest efforts, but tendentiousness and an over-busy plot are tamped down by the unifying focus on central figures and events. An unusually rich role and fine performance by Valieria Bruni Tedeschi and good work by the whole cast contribute to excitement and success of a sleek and well-oiled entertainment machine in this, the second of Virzì's films to be Italy's Best Foreign Oscar entry.

The novel's events have been broken down into Rashomon-like facets expressed as chapters. A prologue shows the cyclist run down at night by an SUV after a party. Chapter one goes back six months to the foolish would-be social climber Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a, clueless, envious motor-mouth dreamer in real estate with a tennis background who strikes up what he thinks is a "friendship" with rich hedge fund magnate Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni) because his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli), by virtue of going to the same posh school, has become the girlfriend of Bernaschi's spoiled son Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli). This leads Dino to investing in daddy's hedge fund €700,000 he doesn't have. We know where this will go, and this chapter is obvious and a little embarrassing, but it establishes the whole movie's dominant class and money issues. Dino has not bothered to tell about mortgaging his entire life to his second wife Roberta (Valeria Golino), a modest psychotherapist who's pregnant with twins.

Chapter Two is from the POV of Carla (Bruni Tedeschi), a former amateur actress with nothing to do as Bernaschi's wife but shop, who gets fleetingly involved with a theater prof, Donato (Luigi Lo Cascio), whom she's made artistic director of a theater rehab project she talks her husband into. When the latest hedge fund goes south it's going to be a brutal awakening for her as well as for Dino. Her chapter is funny, but also sad. Bruni Tedeschi's ability to embody both grandeur and insecurity has never been put to better use. She is at home and utterly right in this role, one of her best.

All the principals have attended a gala of Serena and Massi's school and we know there's been a party afterward where Massi nurses his disappointment at not winning a school prize he was up for by getting very drunk. His SUV may have been the one that hit the cyclist: but was he able to drive it? Chapter Three, named for Serena, takes us closer to these events and introduces another boy we didn't know about, the attractive, charismatic Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo), a talented but troubled artistic youth from the wrong side of the tracks publicly associated with a drug bust. Serena quickly learns to care much more for Luca than she ever did for Massimiliano.

The free adaptation of the novel by Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo and Virzì focuses on thickening the plot while withholding till a final chapter the secret as to who was driving the fatal SUV. The phrase "human capital" (end titles tell us) is an insurance company term referring to a system by which a human life is assessed for compensation in case of loss -- and also obviously metaphorically denotes the way the poor and powerless are undervalued by the rich and manipulative.

The downside of the film's neat interweaving of characters and events is that the class themes brought forward in the first two chapters dominated by the buffoonery and greed of Dino and the meanness of Giovanni Bernaschi get lost in the operatic whodunit that takes center stage later on.

Unfortunately Inrockuptubles' comment about Human Capital, "nothing new, and even a certain rancid taste," has some truth in it. Nonetheless this film embodies a great deal more meaning and has much more artistic and narrative unity than Virzì's boisterous recent memoir The First Beautiful Thing. French cinematographer Jerome Almeras provides a sharp look, and the musical background is often witty. All the actors are admirable, the three younger ones showing considerable promise. The film is entertaining and, if only momentarily, thought-provoking.

Human Capital/Il capitale umano, 110 mins., opened 9 January 2014 in Italy, debuting at Tribeca in 18 April 2014, then winning best film at the 2014 David di Donatello, Nastro d'Argento, and Globi D'Oro Awards. Italy's entry into the Best Foreign Picture Oscar competition, but not a finalist. It opened 19 Nov. 2014 in France; the AlloCiné press rating of 3.2 shows a somewhat lukewarm response. ButVariety and Hollywood Reporter were very favorable. US opening 14 January 2015 (NYC, Film Forum), and 16th (San Francisco, Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema).

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