Human Capital: Between human ties and wealth

Wael Eskandar, Saturday 22 Nov 2014

Opening the 7th Panorama of the European Film, Human Capital portraying two families tied together by a tragic incident becomes a cynical critique of social classes in Italy

Human Capital
Photo: Still from Human Capital

The 7th Panorama of the European Film kicked off with Human Capital, an Italian film directed by Paolo Verzi. Based on a novel by Stephen Amidon with the same title, the film is about two families centering on an accident where a cyclist is hit at night on a road and left unattended.

The film is set in Brianza, a region in the north of Italy. There are typical undertones of Berlusconi ever-present in the background, where themes of ruthless businessmen, racism and disparity between rich and poor prevail.

The story follows three main characters, Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) a greedy buffoon, his daughter Serena Ossola (Matilde Gioli) who is dating the son of a rich businessman, Giovanni Bernaschi, and Carla Bernaschi (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Giovanni’s wife.

We are offered various vantage points in the lead up to the accident from each of the main characters, and as their worlds unravel.

The film is executed with great craftsmanship, good cinematography and precise shots. Verzi is a masterful storyteller; he tackles a simple story with great ambition and manages to deliver multiple takes on the same event without any glaring glitches in narrative or scenes — a commendable feat. The narrative shifts from one person to another, with precision regarding the chronology of events. The shifts in perspective are managed effortlessly as we are easily and quickly submerged into the narrative of each central character.

While the central event may be the cyclist’s accident, the main points of focus are elsewhere. The themes that are prevalent in the film relate to the value of human connections and their relationship to money. The Bernaschi family is well respected for their wealth, but Giovanni is betting to make more money on a worsening economy. His family are the beneficiaries of such wealth, complicit even if they do not acknowledge their part. Dino Ossola is a greedy and abhorrent man, willing to make a mockery of himself in order to get recognition and money. Fabrizio Bentivoglio delivers a convincing performance and manages to turn Dino into the off-putting character he was meant to be.

One of the less examined themes is the absent daughter of the wealthy man who goes to explore poorer regions in India and developing countries, yet wants an apartment in Milan, a sort of faux leftist attitude prevalent among some of the rich. Also the idea of betting on the loss of the country as a whole in return for personal gain was faint in the background and could have benefitted from more development, rather than just personal ties.

The representations in the film, though perhaps accurate, may have been overly clichéd. The character of a poor misunderstood artist who takes an interest in Serena was over the top and over romanticised, and the director may have been a little forceful in beseeching us to sympathise and identify. The part about Carla extended needlessly and offered nothing new in terms of a bored wealthy housewife trying to find purpose in life. The ending scene was perhaps the least original in the film, and not the best at portraying the overall idea behind the film.

In sum, Human Capital is a very finely crafted feat of storytelling with a focus on human interaction and ties. It offers insight into a typical community in northern Italy and raises questions as to the value of human life when weighed out against wealth.

Human Capital is the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards. The film has won numerous, awards including Best Actress in the Tribeca Film Festival and Best Film in the Italian Golden Globes.

The film will be screened on Monday, 24 November, at 6.30pm in Galaxy cinema.
Check the Panorama programme and our recommendations.

Ahram Online is official media sponsor of the Panorama of the European Film

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