Greetings again from the darkness. The financial crisis-manslaughter-class warfare-thriller from novelist Stephen Amidon shifts from Connecticut (in the book) to just outside of Milan for director Paolo Virzi’s look at class and character. A term used by insurance companies to calculate the value of a human life in settlement cases, “human capital” carries even more meaning in this twisted tale of greed and broken dreams.
After an opening sequence that shows an off-duty waiter getting knocked from his bicycle by a swerving SUV in the dark of night, the story is divided into chapters that provide the various perspectives of different characters affected by this hit-and-run. Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) is a middle-class real estate business owner whose girlfriend (the too rarely seen Valeria Golino) is pregnant with twins, and his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) is dating a private school classmate Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) who comes from the upper crest Bernaschi family that is living the dream thanks to the dad’s (Fabrizio Gifuni) hedge-fund success.
It’s easy to see how the lives of these two families become intertwined, and how a few other characters are also affected, but the real joy here is in getting to know each through their own actions. Dino desperately wants a taste of the finer things in life, and risks everything by fraudulently obtaining a bank loan in order to buy into Bernaschi’s hedge fund. His wife Roberta is a trusting and pure-hearted woman who accepts her place in society and warmly looks forward to being a new mom. Their daughter Serena proves to be the best judge of character and soon enough boots the spoiled kid Massimiliano to the curb, while connecting with the artistic and misunderstood Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo), though even Serena’s moral compass shows its cracks.
Bernaschi is a smooth operator and the perfect face for a hedge fund so dependent on the financial collapse of its own country. His wife Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) is a lost soul … enjoying the perks of a wealthy lifestyle, but still holding on to her artistic dreams of youth. Life as a trophy wife is evidently not so fulfilling for those with their own aspirations. Their son Massimiliano, as you might imagine, is unable to live up to the expectations of his father, and frequently handles his perceived lack of parental attention by over-boozing at every opportunity.
This film was Italy’s submission to the Academy in the Best Foreign Language category, but unfortunately did not make the final cut. It is rich in texture and remarkable in its ability to convey depth in so many characters. The basic story has some similarities to the film 21 Grams, in that we witness the many ways in which people handle crisis. In this case, the mystery of the initial sequence is left unsolved until near the end, but there are so many personal “fork in the road” moments, that solving the case of the cyclist death somehow doesn’t monopolize our thoughts.
Excellent acting throughout allows us to connect with each of the key characters, and especially worth noting are Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Matilde Gioli. Ms. Gioli is a newcomer with a bright future. She brings believability and strength to a teenager role that would more typically be over-the-top or one-dimensional in the hands of a lesser actress. Even more impressive is the performance from Ms. Bruni Tedeschi who perfectly captures the heartbreak of a woman living a life others can only dream about, while her own dreams are but shadows from the past.
With source material from a U.S. novelist, and subject matter involving the 1% and crisis of conscience, it’s not difficult to imagine an American remake, but this version is highly recommended for those who enjoy a multi-faceted dramatic thriller.