Venice 2014: Hungry Hearts

Director: Saverio Costanzo
Cast: Adam Driver, Alba Rohrwacher, Roberta Maxwell
Length: 109 mins
Country: USA

Hungry Hearts, Italian director Saverio Costanzo’s newest feature, premiering today at the Venice Film Festival and competing for the main prize, the Golden Lion, starts out playful and energetic yet turns sour due to its dogmatic approach to gender dichotomy. The film chronicles the relationship between Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) and Jude (Adam Driver), who struggle to negotiate the right way to raise their son, mutual love dissolving into obsession and their life together turning into hell. Displaying excellent work by the actors, Hungry Hearts succumbs to the weakness of the narrative, rendering the film slightly tedious instead of thrilling.

Jude and Mina’s love story begins as a charming encounter, both of them getting locked in the same restaurant bathroom. Eventually we see a beautiful wedding, Jude singing a love song in Italian, and Mina looking truly angel-like. The couple become parents. If Mina seemed slightly worrying during her pregnancy – refusing to eat, to visit the doctors and severely trusting on her intuition – now she is paranoid, shielding the kid even from the sunlight. With Adam fretting over the health and safety of the child, Mina grows into a more and more intuitive creature, mystically refusing to see the fact, that, for example, the baby is simply not growing. The father smuggles ham and other kinds of meat to the baby’s diet and slowly realises that he cannot leave his son with Mina as she’s deep in denial and insists on keeping the child sheltered from the world outside, looking more demented as the days go by.

Costanzo claims that the aim behind this film was to simply tell the story of love and to look at these characters with tenderness, seeing as, in his opinion, there is no right or wrong in this situation. However, the framing of Hungry Hearts suggests otherwise. Set in a claustrophobic New York apartment, it portrays Mina as an obsessive New Age lunatic, responding to Adam’s arguments with weak statements about her feelings. Now, she is not insane – though Alba Rohrwacher’s fantastic acting bounces Mina in-between utter hopelessness and blind-eyed denial – she’s merely overprotective. Costanzo sees this clash between husband and wife as a struggle between tradition and modernity.

The script does not give enough weapons for Mina to stand on her own, and Costanzo’s claustrophobic framing renders her into a simple hysterical woman whose overbearing love for her child has turned into a dangerous obsession.

However, I see the recycling of an overused cultural trope, that of women belonging to nature, purity and feeling, and men being rational, logical and pragmatic; Mina is chaos, and Adam is order. The script does not give enough weapons for Mina to stand on her own, and Costanzo’s claustrophobic framing renders her into a simple hysterical woman whose overbearing love for her child has turned into a dangerous obsession. This contrast is also prominent between daughter and mother-in-law (Roberta Maxwell), whose house stands for everything that Mina doesn’t believe in. Yet Mina’s reaction is simple: “I do not think this is a good place; I can feel it”. Obviously, Adam counters this statement with rationality.

What are we meant to think of Mina? Is she a caring mother or a delusional New Age hippy? Perhaps Adam is the one who’s wrong, refusing to see outside of narrow tradition-based logic? Sadly, the film does not give enough space for the debate, Adam’s position of logic and rationale being the only choice for the baby to survive. Mina’s obsession with the baby’s safety manifests through the ever-so-old trope of ‘mother knows best’, and that, according to this film, is the only argument needed. This clash of ideas climaxes in a grotesquely tragic finale, suggesting violence instead of dialogue.

Hungry Hearts has the potential to be a thrilling suspense drama, wielding a Hitchcock-worthy soundtrack studded with paranoia-inducing  string passages, chilling cinematography and great work by the acting duet, but its plot does not provide enough space for constructive dialogue, resulting in yet another film about hysterical women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, not listening to wise advice from their husbands and thus creating tragedy around them.

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