The haves and the wanna-haves mingle, anxious and wary, in Paolo Virzi's sharply observed "Human Capital." Social commentary, introspective drama and gripping whodunit, Italy's submission to the Academy Awards concerns two families from disparate worlds, people whose paths cross only because their teen children are dating.
The film flirts with upper-class stereotypes, but in the nuanced writing and the work of the strong cast, led by a terrific Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, it goes far deeper. There are fools on both sides of the economic divide in this tale of greed and delusion, and even the most hissable characters have their sympathetic moments.
Adapting Stephen Amidon's Connecticut-set novel, the director and his co-writers divide the narrative into four chapters, viewing overlapping events through the eyes of different characters. The action, set in northern Italy's Lombardy region, begins with an accident on a wintry road. It then pulls back six months, tracking the increasingly calamitous entanglements of the ultra-wealthy Bernaschis and the middle-class Ossolas.
Clownishly obsessed with status, Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) goes into social-climbing overdrive when he meets debonair financier Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni), father of his daughter's boyfriend. His investment in Bernaschi's hedge fund — tellingly, a proposition designed to profit on market failure — involves a headlong dive into major debt.
Without losing its discerning eye for absurdity, the movie shifts into contemplative territory in the chapter devoted to Bernaschi's wife. Bruni Tedeschi's Carla is the embodiment of vague yearning, a dithery figure in power heels.
"Human Capital" finds its thriller pulse in the secret emotional lives of the kids — played by superb newcomers Matilde Gioli and Guglielmo Pinelli. Amid setbacks, reversals and a police investigation, the adults circle a number of truths without quite facing them.
MPAA rating: None; in Italian with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hours, 51 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.