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High and low classes collide in 'Human Capital'

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BONFIRE OF VANITIES 'Human Capital' brings class antagonism in modern-day Italy to life.
  • BONFIRE OF VANITIES 'Human Capital' brings class antagonism in modern-day Italy to life.

In synopsis, the glossy yet fascinating Italian import Human Capital sounds like a Paul Haggis tag-teamer—the high and low classes make an unwilling meeting over a traffic accident. It's shrewder than anything ever influenced by Crash, however.

Based on a Connecticut-set novel by Stephen Amidon, director Paolo Virzi's moves the story to a small city outside of Milan. After a Christmas gala held by a well-endowed private school, someone injures a busboy in a hit-and-run collision as he returns home from work on his bicycle. The accident sets off the kind of class antagonism entrenched in Italy since the Roman Empire.

Flashback to the beginning of the trouble. Mid-level real estate agent Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has a beautiful daughter named Serena (Matilde Gioli), who has been dating the son of the local gentry, of the Bernaschi family, inhabitants of a villa that's like something out of a car commercial. (To mock those familiar images, Virzi stages a parade of shiny luxury models, slowly ascending a hill up to the mansion.) Dino, a peasanty gladhander with a bad haircut and a bulky suit, wangles his way into the Bernaschis' orbit, first as a tennis partner, then as an investor bearing a load of borrowed money.

The young Bernaschi prince, Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli), is the kind of entitled young jerk who artfully defaces his shiny SUV with camouflage patches and a "Fuck You" sticker on the back. But as Virzi weaves the story, we learn that we don't really know what's going on. We need to pay more attention to the sad-eyed, throaty-voiced lady of the manor, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who's in a state of emotional cachexia over smothered artistic ambitions.

Human Capital is a suavely told drama—it's rich, if not always subtle. Yet Virzi brings the color and breadth of opera to this story of widespread corruption. Troubled young romance gives shape, flavor and hope to the story of downfall.

'Human Capital' is playing at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.522.0719.

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