Looking for some sort of parable on the divide between the haves and have-nots or trenchant social commentary on the evils of the spoiled rich? Human Capital comes up short. If you’re looking for a not-thoroughly-boring whodunit that also riffs a bit on the ol’ “eat the rich” trope, you might have some better luck finding that here.
In Human Capital, the destinies of two Italian families become intertwined after a hit-and-run accident that kills a bicyclist. Director Paolo Virzì adapts Stephen Amidon’s 2004 novel, Human Capital, into a story told from the perspective of three of the main characters.
One of the families is spectacularly rich; the other… hopes to become so via its tenuous association with the spectacularly rich. That’s about the extent of the social commentary in the film.
The two families meet after their children begin dating. Buffoonish real-estate agent Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is portrayed in a rather caricature-like way as a blustery, uncouth, wanna-be-nouveau-riche. Cultured he is not, but he knows an opportunity when he sees one, or so he thinks. He buys into the exclusive hedge fund of Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni), the father of his daughter’s boyfriend. At the point, it is impossible for the audience to suspend any kind of disbelief as the next plot development is literally emblazoned on the screen in a giant flashing neon sign. (No) surprise—he is not going to get rich quick.
Human Capital doesn’t stray too far from familiar stereotypes. The rich family are not particularly loathsome–their lives are what we would expect. Carla’s “slammed” days consist of shopping, getting massages, and pet art restoration projects. To its credit, the film actually shines in that regard. We are not asked to think, “Oh, they are rich, but LOOK how unhappy they are.” We don’t get the sense that they are particularly unhappy. We do understand, however, that their being inured to this lifestyle is actually a sort of a liability: when it looks like when they might lose even a fraction of their enormous wealth, they appear hopelessly childlike, lost, and incapable of living the life of “normal people,” almost as though they have forgotten how to.
On the other hand, as far as thrillers go, Human Capital is quite a good one! It is not at all apparent who hit the bicyclist and from that perspective, it does hold the viewer’s interest. Serena (Matilde Gioli), Dino’s daughter, is, as a character, the most compelling and well-developed. Unlike just about everyone else in this film, she seems to be the only one with a backbone and passion for, well, much of anything. An added bonus–the quirky art dude might get the girl and not the rich heir.
In a somewhat heavy-handed way, Human Capital showcases how the one percent really cannot at all relate to the life of the ninety-nine percent. Literally and figuratively removed from the rest of society, they appear woefully stuck in their glass palaces. At least the film does not seek to elicit our pity for them. The value of Human Capital is certainly not in its novelty or cleverness, as there is no emotional richness to be found here. It certainly does offer a good bit of suspense and entertainment, which makes it definitely worth checking out.