Hungry Hearts

Hungry Hearts
Directed by Saverio Costanzo
Starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher
Screening at BFI London Film Festival October 14th, 2014

by Ruth Thomson (reviewed at the 71st Venice Film Festival)

Hungry Hearts, based on the novel The Indigo Child by Marco Franzoso and directed by Saverio Costanzo is an intriguing and original genre crunching film with excellent central performances from Adam Driver and Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher.  It has a strong pace and for the most part builds a strong sense of tension. It’s only somewhat let down by Costanzo’s heavy-handed methods of conveying the gradual gear changes from romance, to drama, to thriller and beyond – as it strays into comedic clichéd territory, detracting from the whole.

Driver and Rohrwacher are Mina and Jude, a young and hip New York couple who meet in a particularly endearing opening scene and in no time at all are married and pregnant with an artfully dressed apartment complete with rooftop vegetable garden. It’s hard to see at this stage what’s going to put the thrill in thriller, but the idyll gradually begins to splinter and crack as Mina, a diminutive and quirky soul from the start, begins to reject the notions of modern medicine, refusing to go to scans and insisting her instincts will tell her what’s best for the baby. This goes from bad to worse after the child’s birth, with Mina’s refusal to expose him to anything outdoors or to feed him meat (or much else) pushing Jude to take his son to the doctor in secret where his worst fears are confirmed – the child is malnourished and not growing.

Costanzo effectively conveys the fragility of this small young family against the backdrop of a grim and gargantuan New York, one that seems capable of crushing the endeavors of individuals, whether to grow some veg or raise a child. The director says his own time spent living in the city was a period of particular unhappiness and isolation and this comes across in Mina’s characterization – an introverted foreigner with little support struggling with her mental health.

Whilst a unique and often compelling look at relationships, parenthood, post-natal depression, domestic conflict and the urge to protect, Hungry Hearts sadly does stray too far into melodramatic absurdity. As Mina’s instincts begin to look increasingly sinister, the pop music featured in earlier scenes is replaced by jabbing Psychoesque strings – just in case we don’t realize she’s becoming a bit of a basket case (we do). Likewise, the sudden use of a fish eye lens midway through the action is effective in conveying the claustrophobia of their small apartment but as it rests on Mina’s increasingly emaciated figure, she becomes more and more of a caricature. As a result, in a climactic scene which should have been drenched in tension, there was a distinct murmur of laughter here in Venice.

Well worth seeing for great performances, but slightly off the mark in tone and style.


Our interview with director Saverio Costanzo.

Our interview with Adam Driver & Alba Rohrwacher.

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