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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Human Capital
Human Capital
Film Movement // Unrated // July 7, 2015
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 5, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Based on the novel by Stephen Amidon, Human Capital examines how casual decisions and choices can create severe collateral damage, even in the lives of strangers totally unaware of those making the decisions. In many ways, the film relies on familiar narrative tricks and ideas, but it is blessed with a great cast, and director Paolo Virzi handles the material with class and style. At times, its thematic message can feel a touch muddled -- is the ripple effect explored here truly meaningful, or just arbitrary? -- but in the end, that sense of distance between cause and effect might be the element that makes the movie's message hit home.

The film is broken up into three chapters, plus an epilogue, the first of which is the most simplistic. Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is a middle-class restaurant owner. He has gone through a divorce but is recently re-married to a psychologist named Roberta (Valeria Golino), a development that his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) is less than thrilled about. One day, he is taking her to see her boyfriend Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) and becomes curious about Massimiliano's parents, Giovanni and Carla Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). The Bernaschis are well-known in the area, a wealthy family who made their name in real estate. Giovanni invites Dino to play tennis with him, and Dino sees it as an opportunity, taking out a hefty loan and investing recklessly in their properties. Right from the beginning, it is clear that Dino is in over his head, but the way Virzi and Bentivoglio capture Dino's specific combination of arrogance and impotence makes the segment more engaging. Dino's scruffy goatee, bowl cut, glasses, and short stature next to Giovanni's handsome, clean-cut, tall figure are almost visual exposition, a perfect summary of the spiritual and philosophical differences between the two men.

All three sequences take place over the same time period, and the second shifts over to Carla, who is struggling to figure out her place within the family. Massimiliano is now an adult, leaving her without a child to attend to, and Giovanni assumes she will not understand his business. She is lonely and aimless, driving around town shopping almost out of habit. On one of her trips, she discovers the city's theater is about to close, and becomes passionate about restoring it. Both Dino and Carla's stories could be viewed as naive people learning a hard lesson, Dino's problem is fueled by his ego, whereas Carla finds her idealism being suffocated. The sequence rests firmly on the shoulders of Tedeschi, and she is magnificent, breathing life into a seemingly cold film. It would be easy for the struggles of the extremely wealthy to come off as selfish, but there is a sincerity to her sadness, fueled by a fairly simple bit of backstory.

The third and most important thread follows Serena, whose actions fuel the film's narrative drive. Unbeknownst to both her father and Massimiliano's family, she and "Massi" have already broken up. He holds out hope that she will change her mind, but she holds firm even while they keep up appearances. While waiting outside Roberta's office, she runs into one of her patients, Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo). Luca is well-known as a young man who was arrested with a pount of hash and thought of as a hoodlum, but Serena is intrigued when Luca sketches a picture of her in the waiting room. She ditches her friend to meet him again and their chemistry is undeniable. Anzaldo and Gioli have an electric sexual chemistry, and it is immediately clear that Luca is far more interesting and spirited than Massi. Gioli also has a few excellent scenes with Golino, navigating the complicated beginnings of a relationship between a stepmother and stepdaughter.

Each of these three threads is tied together by a minor inciting incident, one fueled by pure chance and bad luck. Many will make the mistake of dismissing the entire movie on the fact that it is chance, but what matters is how the characters react to this incident, and what that says about their mindset. With each new story, Virzi adds another layer of exposition explaining why these people make choices and where they're coming from, deepening their relationships with each other and to the incident. What's particularly fascinating is that while the individual stories paint a picture of each character's level of compassion and sensitivity, the final act turns these portraits upside down. The concept of "human capital" is a cold one, as mercenary as valuations get, but when that mentality trickles down to people like the characters here, perhaps that's as sympathetic as they get.

Human Capital arrives on DVD with pretty much the only image I have seen associated with the film, of Tedeschi smoking. While she is the emotional focal point of the movie, I find this a somewhat strange piece of key art, but I also suppose the film is not easily summarized in a single image. The disc comes in a transparent single-disc eco-friendly Amaray case and features a booklet advertising other Film Movement releases.

The Video and Audio
Generally, I have been impressed with Film Movement's releases, which are often among the sharper, more well-compressed DVD releases I see. Human Capital's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is one of the less impressive efforts from the studio. Contrast appears a little boosted, with whites often looking a bit blown out and thick shadows consuming detail. Detail itself is not in abundance, although this appears to be a result of the film's soft-focus style, with the widescreen imagery having a touch of haziness to it that doesn't seem disc-based. Colors are generally strong and all things considered the movie looks all right, but this is not quite as pleasing as some other Film Movement DVDs I've watched.

Sound is an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 track that gets the job done. This is a pretty straightforward drama without much in the way of big crowds or atmospheric effects, so standard stereo is adequate when it comes to the movie's score and conversational dialogue. Removable English subtitles are provided.

The Extras
Traditionally, the only extra for Film Movement selections would be a bonus short film. While one of those is included (more below), they have also started throwing on bonuses for the feature presentation. Human Capital comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette (22:20), which sits down with director Virzi, author Amidon, and most of the cast and crew. One of the more interesting tidbits divulged upfront and discussed in detail is the fact that the source novel by Amidon is an American book, set in Connecticut, which director Paolo Virzi relocated to Italy (with Amidon's blessing). DVDs and Blu-rays for foreign films, especially Asian ones, tend to include uncut junket interviews, which consist of the same questions over and over, which gets monotonous fast, but this is livelier and looser (especially taking into account the bizarre music cues, although it is heavy on film clips.

Beyond that, there is also a single deleted scene (3:17), a conversation between Dino and Serena. Although the film does feel as if it's lacking a real scene between these characters, this one is a little long and on the dry side, and Serena comes off as unreasonably bitter in it. Extras for Human Capital conclude with a music video for "I'm Sorry" by Jackie O's Farm (4:33).

The short film is Job Interview, directed by German filmmaker Julie Walter. It's a fun but somewhat slight story about a woman whose job interview takes an eerie turn. As far as "gotcha"s go, it's a bit shallow.

Trailers for Stations of the Cross, Marie's Story, Amour Fou, and an advertisement for Film Movement play before the main menu. The three film trailers and further trailers for King of Devil's Island, Come Undone, and Noise can be found under "Film Movement Trailers" on the Special Features menu, while the Film Movement spot can be found under "About Film Movement" on the main menu. A original theatrical trailer for Human Capital is also included.

Human Capital was an American novel repurposed for Italian cinema, but the change feels right. The expansive scope of the story, even as it relates to only a handful of characters, feels like a modern echo of The Godfather without the gangster trappings. As a film, it is stocked with excellent performances by an ensemble cast, and a story that becomes more interesting with each new retelling. What it says about human nature may not be revelatory, but Virzi does it with confidence and class. Highly recommended.

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