Based on a novel by Marco Franzoso, Hungry Hearts is a riveting, relentless film. A psychological thriller that takes an unusual look at how the arrival of a child can tear a couple apart.
In a hilarious opening scene Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) get stuck in a Chinese restaurant toilet. As Jude’s troubled bowels continue to plague their first meeting, Mina is unsure whether to giggle or suffocate in the musk. This unconventional meeting lures it’s audience into thinking this could easily be a classic rom-com, but as their relationship develops it soon reveals itself to be a lot more complex.
The film jumps to Jude and Mina, now a couple, in bed. They share an intense heart to heart about whether their relationship can continue as Mina’s job has been transferred out of New York. In quick succession, Mina finds herself pregnant and then married in a restaurant on Brighton Beach. It is immediately apparent that Mina distrusts modern medicine, refusing to seek medical help even though she is underweight during her pregnancy, she refuses to eat proteins to help the growth of her baby and only eats organic veg. The baby is born against her will via C section, after Jude has promised to do things her way. Mina’s obsession with eating only natural products continues after her pregnancy and renders the child malnourished and underweight.
The film becomes an intense insight into the breakdown of their relationship. Mina believes she has given birth to what she believes to be an ‘indigo’ child, one who needs to fight from day one in order to survive and needs to escape the claustrophobic, smog filled New York City and take refuge in her flat, which is now equipped with its own organic rooftop greenhouse. Driven to desperation by Mina’s unwillingness to embrace modern medicine, Jude has to deceive her to protect his son. His wife is malnourished, his baby is malnourished and all he can do is sit and watch them whither.
At this point the film leans heavily on the side of Jude, which will not sit well with everyone, especially those familiar with post-natal depression. However it does help underline the struggle between being a decent husband and father. Jude is trying to juggle the two, pleasing Mina by not giving him antibiotics, but at the same time sneaking off to a local church to try and feed the baby ham in order to grow. If he is caught by mina feeding him baby food she flushes it out of the baby’s system with laxative oil. The film gets darker and stranger from there on in, director Saverio Costanzo starts off the film preferring intimate, eye-level long takes, begins to use wider and wider angles, distorting the image to unreal degrees. It gives the film an increasing intensity as the claustrophobia of their flat and New York City drive dividing lines between Jude and Mina.
There is something truly horrifying and at the same time captivating about this film. Costanzo has created a modern relationship drama and a thriller rolled into one, it takes the boundaries of what a shared human experience can be to a discomforting level as desperation, suspicion and selfishness tear Mina and Jude apart. This film is truly an astounding piece of work because of its inventiveness, its relentlessness and it’s unwillingness to shy away from exposing the darker side of a relationship turned sour.
By Will Harper