Monday, February 08, 2016

movie review: Hungry Hearts

Hungry Hearts
(Italy, 2014)
directed by Saverio Costanzo
based on the novel Il Bambino Indaco (The Indigo Child) by Marco Franzoso

The opening scene of Hungry Hearts is charming and funny: two strangers, Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), get stuck together in a horrible restaurant bathroom when the door won't open. Driver (who played Lena Dunham's boyfriend in Girls) and Rohrwacher make it work. They seem sweet and believable as a potential couple, so when the next scene shows the romantic aftermath of this coincidental meeting, we are not surprised.

In typical movie fashion--i.e., quickly enough to make one's head spin--Jude and Mina become a family, with a baby on the way. There is a happy wedding scene at Coney Island, with lots of dancing and singing. We meet Jude's mother (Roberta Maxwell), who urges Mina to consider her as family, since Mina is from Italy and does not have anyone in New York.

However, after this the tone veers sharply away from simple romantic drama. It turns out that Mina has developed an obsession with dreams, signs, and omens, along with disordered eating patterns and a deep distrust of doctors. This makes for a difficult pregnancy and childbirth, and soon after their son is born, she and Jude are at odds about how to care for him.

I will not spoil any of the rest of the film. Suffice it to say that Hungry Hearts becomes as tense and suspenseful as any thoughtful horror movie. I can honestly say I had no idea how the film would end, but afterward, I felt it ended the only way it possibly could. It is easy to think the film is about Mina and her obsessions with the medical establishment (I started out thinking, "I bet she doesn't believe in vaccinations" and ended up thinking, "I wish she were a run of the mill anti-vaxxer"), but really it is about Jude. He is an excellent example of the frog sitting in a pot, the water slowly heating up until it is almost too late to jump out.  

Hungry Hearts is not a perfect movie; it is a bit too long and drags a little bit. In some ways this draggy feeling works, because it allows the audience to feel the drawn-out dread that Jude and his mother feel as the days tick by. That said, although it doesn't ruin the film, a nearly two-hour running time is excessive. This is a tiny flaw, though, in the grand scheme of things, because the cinematography, acting, and writing are all outstanding.

Hungry Hearts is currently available to stream on Netflix Canada.

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