The mood to Paolo Virzi’s compelling drama Human Capital is set within a mere matter of moments. Instantly we see a man clock off from work on a Friday night, before heading home on his bike, only to be hit by a passing car. We have no idea who he is, but we’ve just followed him, voyeuristically, and now suddenly he’s fighting for his life. We feel disquieted, uncomfortable and intensely intrigued – and it’s a sentiment that lives on throughout the rest of the film, in what is a captivating study of two families irrevocably brought together off the back of this opening tragedy.

It does, however, take a long while to figure out exactly how they are tied to the incident – as initially we steer away from the event to meet Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), who drops his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) off at her boyfriend Massimiliano’s (Guglielmo Pinelli) house, and becomes so enamoured with their lifestyle, he uses his own property as collateral when taking out a loan from the bank to invest in Giovanni Bernaschi’s (Fabrizio Gifuni) shares. The focus then shifts onto the latter’s trophy wife, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who wants to reopen a local theatre, while in the meantime becoming desperately anxious about her son, following his raucous night out with Serena.

While we weave, seamlessly, between characters, the one constant in this instance, is money – which is what drives this narrative forward at a steady pace. It’s also what crafts an intriguing protagonist in Dino, who is overcome with desperation, and his pathetic longing for acceptance into this upper class world he craves. People that way inclined make for fascinating entry points as you can never predict their movements or just how far they’re willing to go. In some ways this bears similarities to Fargo – not just for the dark comedic undertones that exist – but in how you pity Dino, much in the same way you pity William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard in the classic Coen brothers production. You know he’s a bad person and has made big mistakes, but he’s so hopeless you end up rooting for him as the inherent underdog.

Where Virzi triumphs best, however, is within his structure, and inventive approach to storytelling. We begin with the Ossola’s side of the story, before moving on to the Bernaschi’s and then ending with Serena – caught between two families and somewhat subjective in the process. The final sequences come from an omniscient perspective, as we, free from agenda can piece the entire tale together. Such an approach keeps you compelled and engrossed throughout, as Virzi feeds us information as we go along, filling in the gaps as we watch the same set of events from differing perspectives.

Similarly to Matteo Garrone’s Reality, and even Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar winning The Great Beauty, comes yet another Italian feature to intricately study the class system, and how people long for success, in a somewhat shallow environment. The American Dream is of course one we’re familiar with given how it has filtered into mainstream culture, but the ‘Italian Dream’ is rather remarkable itself. Though based on Human Capital – and the aforementioned productions – this dream appears to be something of a nightmare.