Before “Birdman,” Alejandro González Iñárritu was best known for the intertwining multi-narrative structure that served him so well in “Amores Perros” and not so well in “Babel.” That format has apparently passed on to Italian director Paolo Virzì, who has adapted Stephen Amidon’s 2004 novel, “Human Capital,” into a chronologically looping roundelay involving three versions of the same incident. (The film was Italy’s Academy Award contender but didn’t make the final five.) Though it initially shows signs of overcoming its creakiness, “Capital” loses value when its screenwriters try too hard to be clever.
The movie begins with the misfortune of a lumpen prole leaving a banquet where he was working as a waiter. It’s night and the roads are spooky and the guy’s riding a shaky-looking bike and all signs point to something bad happening. It does.
Who’s to blame? As the title suggests (it refers to the net worth of human life calculated for a settlement in a lawsuit), when all is said and done, it’s the whole darn free enterprise system. But Virzì spreads the guilt among stereotypes, dividing the parable into four chapters, the first three of which are from a different character’s point of view.
First is Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), the kind of guy who can be sized up by the way he eats salami. A small-time realtor, he sniffs out a chance to win big when he schmoozes with wealthy hedge-fund churl Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifuni), whose son Massimilliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) is going out with Serena (Matilde Gioli), Dino’s daughter. Next comes Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Giovanni’s pampered, idle, doormat of a wife. And, finally, Serena, the most developed and sympathetic of the bunch, played by Gioli with fire and backbone.
Gioli’s performance is all the more remarkable because the characters in “Capital” basically serve as ciphers in a programmatic screed. They are straw men in a tendentious, fallacious argument rather than actual people. When a great director like the late Krzysztof Kieslowski takes charge of the linked narrative structure, as in his “Three Colors” trilogy (1993-94), it can evoke the magic of synchronicity and epiphany. But Kieslowski’s films are rooted in human experience, not ideology. When political statements and contrived artifices merge, it usually results in heavy losses for both.