Saverio Costanzo’s new film Hungry Hearts is a domestic drama with horrific overtones. Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) and Jude (Adam Driver) meet in the toilet of a Chinese restaurant when Mina is waiting for Jude to finish with the cubicle. Jude has diarrhoea and the stench is very bad, so Mina tries to open the door only to find that they are both locked in the bathroom. It sounds like the start of a crude comedy, peppered with toilet humour, however the film’s indie aesthetic insinuates otherwise. Hungry Hearts is shot in muted colours, and its characters are mostly softly spoken, rarely cracking a smile. Mina and Jude eventually fall pregnant and marry, and the opening toilet scene operates as an unsettling foreshadowing of what is to come: they are locked in a tiny room with no windows and forced to inhale the scent of Jude’s excrement until an external party violently busts the door open.
Conflict between Mina and Jude starts during the management of the pregnancy. Mina sees a clairvoyant who predicts that their child will be an “indigo child – come to Earth from another dimension to save us all”. Mina is also suspicious of conventional medicine, and refuses medical treatment on a number of occasions, almost killing herself and her child during the pregnancy. While Jude is initially patient and respectful of his wife, he takes the doctor’s side. After the child is born, it is suggested that Mina has an eating disorder, as well as some other kind of mental illness and she becomes obsessed with purifying their child, to the point where the child becomes malnourished.
Hungry Hearts is almost entirely shot in Mina and Jude’s apartment, and as the conflict unravels the film develops an increasingly claustrophobic feel. Mina and Jude are hardly strangers to closed spaces; although they met in a bathroom permeated by the scent of Jude’s faeces, it is the permeation of their flat with Mina’s paranoia that spells their undoing. Locked up with their baby, who is never named, their reality becomes increasingly distorted, symbolised by the use of a fish-eye lens which magnifies their heads and eyes in strange dream-like ways. It is as if we are peeking through the spyhole of a door, watching them circumspectly as they quiver about, Jude plying their baby with ham, Mina purging him with Yolax oil.
As expected, the relationship between Mina and Jude becomes increasingly tense. However, very few words are exchanged and the dialogue is predictable, and revolves around stating facts: “Our child is malnourished.” “My child vomited up meat. What do you know about this?” etc. Even their insults are boring, “Since when did you become such a shithead?” As characters, both Mina and Jude are underdeveloped. Mina, with her paper-thin skin and skeletal frame, is little more than a ghost – she hovers in the background, haunting Jude, but we are never given a reason as to why she is the way she is. Jude is similarly two-dimensional – he loves his child and is loyal to his wife, but his inner turmoil is never explored.
I was hoping for a more witty investigation into the dynamics of a toxic relationship, something akin to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Christopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater. But where Albee and Durang offer insight into the darker aspects of something real, Costanzo takes the opposite approach, abstracting human relations into the realm of the horror trope. The effect is ultimately unfulfilling.