A working-class Italian family’s struggling to obtain decent wages and benefits on a McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago leaves one member dead and another deeply emotional in director Marco Bellocchio’s third film in five years, a return to familiar terrain. Alessandro Costantini, grandson of restaurant manager Donnasco (played by the late, great Costantini in the film The Story of the Weeping Camel) takes over for his father but it’s clear that he is not going to be exactly what people expected from the deal-making Donnasco. His connection to the family’s finances, his interest in growing up quickly and taking care of his mother, Fanny (Jacqueline Bisset, signing on for the third time for Bellocchio after Gianni Amelio’s La Notte in 2006 and John Turturro’s Pasa Inocentes in 2009), all suggest that he is going to show up to his responsibilities differently than his father. Unfortunately, the warmth and charm on display by the young man he takes over for don’t compensate for the dismal second act.
In this sympathetic, sensitive family drama, the son is bearing the brunt of the family’s difficulties. When Teresa (Margherita Buy) shows up at the family home one night with injuries from a bad accident, Donnasco has learned he has a heart problem. Alessandro arrives to find the entire family — his parents, brother Alex, and sisters Elena (Fernanda Montenegro) and Rose (Maria Augusta Manzano) — and many workers at the Golden Corral near Wrigley Field waiting for him to eat. Mario’s brother-in-law Gus (Pino Del Campo) and a fellow cook hang around to handle the details of bringing him home. Meanwhile, his mother is gravely ill and in the hospital, the family is having trouble finding the funds to pay for his heart surgery. He is delivered to the hospital where his mother awaits. Alessandro meets a young nursing assistant named Julie (Amy Matthews) on the ride there and she takes it upon herself to give him a lift to his appointment. But she almost immediately disappears. A bedraggled Alessandro runs after her and says, “Is she dead?” (“Yes.”)
Alessandro gets home, befriends his mother who knows she has died but his family is confused and his father needs to see her before it’s official. He also has to deal with his girlfriend (Isabelle Huppert, in a dual role as the older, more eloquent Elena and the younger, more resourceful Alex). He’s arrested for trying to force a customer out of the restaurant but he’s released with a warning and promises to behave. (This story was reported by Mioshi Troupe in the French press, the circulation of which is several times that of the USA, so the quality is always greater here.)
The supporting cast is unshowy, but the attention goes to the principal players. So it is to Michele Riondino, who plays a waiter from Venezuela as an angry, desperate,” angry penniless.” And to Huppert as Elena, who is too absorbed in her family’s problems to pay attention to her own, or Albane Theron as Alex’s mother, who expresses frustration that she is worrying over her dead husband’s estate instead of coping with the terrible physical and emotional pain that attends having to have a son die.
By the end of Human Capital, we know Alessandro’s story but we do not necessarily care about the outcome, in the way Bellocchio wants us to. We are aware that there is something badly wrong here, but in the mood of sadness that is so universal, we don’t feel more or less disturbed. He sends us on a journey with an anti-hero, a young man who is working hard for a family, caught between more material assets than he knows what to do with and who is forced to face his own lack of pride and innocence, as well as his family’s. It will be interesting to see what Bellocchio does next.
Human Capital (76 min.)
Directed by Marco Bellocchio. Screenplay by Carlo Mazzacurati. Camera by Mike Kirkwood. Edited by Johan Willems. Music by Benjamin Bellott. Featuring Michele Riondino, Margherita Buy, Pino Del Campo, Albane Theron, Isabella Rossellini, Alessandro Costantini, Florencia Loucci, Maria Augusta Manzano, Maurizio Tolmasino, Isabelle Huppert