Published Jun 04, 2015Initially, Hungry Hearts, Saverio Costanzo's adaptation of Marco Franzoso's novel, The Indigo Child, presents as a low budget romantic comedy. After being accidentally locked in a washroom in a New York restaurant, Italian-immigrant Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) meets Jude (Adam Driver), an American that's just taken an embarrassingly smelly dump that the pair are forced to breathe in while calling for help. While played here for comic effect, this stench ultimately hovers over the rest of the film, representing something afoul in a relationship that quickly progresses to marriage and conception with little consideration for what these commitments ultimately mean.
Much like Leigh Janiak's misogynistic horror, Honeymoon, and, to a lesser degree, the male comedy of hyperbole The Heartbreak Kid, Hungry Hearts is about the shift in perceptions and behaviour once a relationship is established. Mina is a vegan and naturopath who believes in intuition and fate; she even visits a fortune teller early on and takes to heart some enabling rubbish that suggests her child to be is "chosen." Jude is a vegetarian, but he's also grounded in reality and knows where to draw the line between pretentious urban ideals and practical sustainability. At least, that's the perspective we're given for the duration of this mostly effective and entirely infuriating psychological thriller.
Such a minor variance in ideology shouldn't theoretically cause much of a rift between two people — they share an ostensible similarity in their culinary moral choices, for one — but Mina decides to ignore doctors ("they fill you full of poison"), endangering herself and her infant during the pregnancy and afterwards when she refuses to feed the child any proteins or formula when her own malnourishment leaves her unable to produce breast milk.
To give Rohrwacher credit, her depiction of the increasingly gaunt and solipsistic Mina is intense. It's also effectively enraging and aggravating. Babbling about naturalist, "clean" ideals is one thing, but Rohrwacher is fully committed to selling these beliefs and convincingly manipulating the situation and playing wounded whenever Jude attempts to reason with her. It gets to a point where even Jude's decision to slap her — something reprehensible and vile — almost seems logical in the face of such a delusional and criminally negligent approach to life and child-rearing. And while such narrative tactics could prove horrifying in their own right — vilifying a woman for trying to raise her child based on her beliefs — there's more to Hungry Hearts than straight-up gynophobia.
Jude's mother (Roberta Maxwell) has some peculiar things to say early on, noting that she'd gladly adopt the child if the young lovers decided they didn't want it. And since we're only ever given Jude's perspective, there's a looming sense that the situation might not be as black and white as the surface presentation suggests. Costanzo ensures this idea permeates the film by injecting bird's eye views and candid angles at key moments, suggesting that not all is what it appears to be.
The problem with Hungry Hearts is that it indulges in the narrowness of perspective a bit too much. While it was obviously a conscious decision to make this Jude's story, the lack of romantic development showing why the pair were attracted to each other in the first place makes the deterioration of the relationship seem less substantial than it could be. There's also very little attention paid to reaction or quiet moments of reflection to allow us to read into secondary character motivations. Costanzo covers the action — often in close-up — without allowing us enough space to breathe or reflect on what we're seeing.
Still, the acting from Driver and Rohrwacher is impressive. Both are immersed in their respective characters and really sell the unnerving unease and sense of dread that underlies every moment. As a thriller, this clever indie throwback succeeds. It's just murky when it comes to full disclosure and development, and could very easily be interpreted as a misogynistic text. Of course, the wiggle room for interpretation ultimately adds some intrigue to an otherwise standard story of marital distrust.