I had no expectations for Italian director Saverio Costanzo’s “Hungry Hearts,” having not seen his earlier “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” (2010), so it was a pleasant surprise when it spooled out in such a charming manner – an Italian woman, Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), meets Jude (Adam Driver) in the restroom of a New York Chinese restaurant when the door gets stuck.
It’s not exactly love at first sight – or smell – but soon there is sex and then a pregnancy and then a wedding, nicely mixed over “Oh, What a Feeling!” All is happiness: Mina is lovely and Jude is ecstatic. (Never mind the weird dream Mina has about a hunter shooting a deer outside of the restaurant where they had their wedding reception.) Finally, there’s a baby boy, and here’s where things start to get a little hinky.
It turns out that Mina has very strong feelings about giving birth and raising her child in a natural manner, even to the point of risking her and the boy’s life in the birth process, which begins at home and ends up in the hospital with a caesarean – something Jude promised her he would not allow. (Now consider his name…) Seven months later, Mina is feeding the baby rather strange natural foods and oils, no meat, and both mother and son are worryingly thin.
She has not taken the baby outside in all of this time, for fear of contamination, and when Jude comes home he has to wash his hands before she allows him to hold his son. Is she depressed? Crazy? Jude rebels (betrays?) and on her first day back at work he takes the baby to the doctor, who recommends an immediate catch-up diet of meat and vitamins. At home again, he tells Mina what he’s done and what the doctor said, and insists that the new diet be followed. So begins an epic struggle.
It goes to extreme – some might say absurd — levels of insistence, distrust, hurt and anger, building to a climax that, like the one in Francesco Munzi’s “Black Souls,” feels a little too writerly, a little forced, and quite unnecessary. Rohrwacher and Driver are terrific, nevertheless, and Costanza certainly knows how to tell – and show – a story, particularly in the details. He should do more of it, but next time with a story that doesn’t force its audience to either buy in or buy out. No more dreams about dead deer, please.
IFC Films opens “Hungry Hearts” June 5 in New York and on VOD, and June 12 in LA.