Human Capital, by Paolo Virzì (2014)
"Everything is going so well. You bet on the downfall of this country and you won."
Forget The Great Beauty, forget I Am Love: Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital is the most perceptive and imaginative parable of contemporary Italy’s skewed aspirations and obsession with the lives (and the money) of others.
While the story is interesting enough, the characters are well-sketched, and the acting is very good - particularly from my favourite Italian actor, Fabrizio Gifuni (The Best of Youth) in a dislikable role as the wealthy hedge fund owner and pater familias - Human Capital is very much a director’s film.
I must admit I am surprised: I have always liked Virzì’s quirky comedies but didn’t expect him to find this new depth and an impressive ambition in his work. His visual style has none of Sorrentino’s baroque flourish, nor Guadagnino’s austerity and coolness - it’s simpler, warmer, quite sentimental. There are at least four scenes I found completely preposterous - one in each chapter. And yet the whole film hangs together remarkably well. Virzì displays an understanding of human relations (particularly those of younger people) that is completely missing in many of his Italian peers’ work.
The script uses Stephen Amidon’s novel set in Connecticut and repurposes its critique of WASP bourgeoisie towards a more encompassing study of Italian social climbing. There are also echoes of Buñuel, AmoresPerros, Flaubert channeled via Franzen, even some nods to Wes Anderson. And of course the story could be well be another riff on the themes of money, class and car crashes composed by the greatest of them all, The Great Gatsby.
The result is a film that has at the same time a fiercely contemporary face and a timeless inner moral spine, an Italian story that can be relocated anywhere in the world where there are haves and have-nots. Some parable indeed.
Human Capital was announced this morning as Italy’s submission to the Oscar Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category. It is released in the UK on Friday 26 September - you can see it at Curzon Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.