It all starts so sweetly and optimistically there’s no way you will see the end coming. Hungry Hearts begins with a meeting in a single shot between the two leads as they become trapped in a tiny bathroom cubicle together. Romantic cinematic convention dictates that any two people who meet in such adorable circumstances are destined to be together forever and so that is how I assumed this film would end. How wrong I was.
After meeting in a toilet Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) are soon living together. When Mina is faced with moving back to her native Italy Jude quickly impregnates and marries her, trapping her in New York indefinitely. After their wedding Mina starts to have nightmares and sees a psychic who tells her how the unborn child inside her will be an indigo child; a pure child sent down from above. This plants a seed in Mina’s head and once the baby is born she strives to keep him clean by imposing a strict vegan diet. The birth of their son drives a wedge between Jude and Mina as Jude struggles to get close to the child and ensure he is getting the nutrients he needs and Mina spends months cooped up inside growing ever closer to her baby.
From its indie romance feel at the start Hungry Hearts slowly evolves into a horror in the style of Rosemary’s Baby. Instead of a mother expecting a demon child there is a mother who thinks her child is so special that she herself becomes a monster and threatens her child’s safety. I might have been expecting a romantic drama but what I got instead was a dread filled feature of unrelenting tension and fear for each character. There are no doubt feminist debates to have over the representation of the monster mother but if we put those aside we are left with a gripping and surprising romantic thriller on an intimate scale.
Rohrwacher is perfect as the initially frail but adorable Mina who soon turns into a dangerously protective figure. There are many moments when it is impossible to tell what Mina might do next as Rohrwacher gives her a frenzied look of love and fear; two emotions that lead to limitless unpredictability. Driver as Jude gives another powerful nuanced performance. Driver oozes sensitivity but his body is also powerful and a violent outburst always seems to be lurking just beneath the surface.
Italian director Saverio Costanzo has crafted a tough drama that starts sweet but ends with an explosive and unpredictable final act. Hungry Hearts is a film of slow evolution in tone and genre as romance turns to mistrust and comedy turns to drama. The resulting film is not necessarily pleasant but it is skillfully put together and altogether frightening.
Not one to watch when you’re expecting.
Hungry Hearts has no UK release date yet but screens at the London Film Festival on the 14th, 16th, and 17th of October 2014.