American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Set in a town in Brianza and in Milan, mostly on the night before the night before Christmas, "Human Capital" is the kind of movie that embeds the significance of its title into every subplot, then defines it in an onscreen title at the end, just to make sure you got it. Essentially "American Beauty, Italian Style," with a similar "Ah, sweet magical mystery of life!" score and an artfully scrambled timeline, this ensemble drama about troubled upper-middle class strivers
is slick, confident, and rather empty, and structurally more self-defeating than clever.
The script slides back and forth along a timeline, always returning to the script's central gathering place, a private school student awards ceremony/dinner after which a waiter is hit by a car while bicycling home. This is supposed serve as a Macguffin, stoking a sense of mystery and anticipation: Which person (or persons) hit the waiter? Why didn't they cop to it? How to they plan to escape punishment?
But as the movie unreels—leaping from one character and subplot to another, as one might explore different Wikipedia biographies by clicking on hypertext-linked names—the movie runs out of gas, and your attention wanders instead to the individual characters, their world, and the themes that writer-director Paolo Virzi ("Napoleon in the City," "Every Blessed Day") tries too strenuously to explore: the oblivious arrogance of the One Percenters; the way greed tends to drown out decency; modern capitalism's tendency to treat everything, including people, as raw material to be bought, consumed, or discarded.
The ensemble cast is strong, though; their performances and
Jérôme Alméras's cinematography ensure that "Human Capital" remains watchable even after you feel you've gotten the point already and the movie is belaboring it. Fabrizio Bentivoglio brings a Jack Lemmon-like wheedling desperation to the role of Dino Ossola, a local real estate success story who borrows seven hundred thousand Euros to buy into a supposedly high-yield hedge fund. The fund is overseen by Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Grifuni), a filthy rich investor who lives in a mansion with a marble driveway. He's connected to Dino through his teenage son Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli), who attends the aforementioned private school with Dino's lovely, kindhearted daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli).