Overview: A young father attempts to save his infant son from his wife’s skewed and paranoid beliefs. IFC Films; 2014; 109 Minutes.
Starting at the Top: The situation that brings together Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwarcher) is equal parts funny and uncomfortable. It’s an uncanny introduction, but one that permits a very human observation of the main characters in Hungry Hearts. The opening act sees the two of them move from strangers locked in a tiny bathroom together (with Jude suffering from food poisoning to exacerbate the awkwardness) to a couple in the throes of love (or something close enough to that). As their courtship progresses to marriage, director Savario Costanzo (who adapted the screenplay from the novel by Marco Franzoso) allows us to get to know the characters just enough to plant the suspicion that maybe they aren’t getting to know each other as well as they should. This underdeveloped familiarity is never spelled out to a disruptive measure, but evident in smaller context clues. Any effort to bluntly illustrate Mina’s unhealthy paranoia prior to the establishment of the central conflict would have placed Jude into a suspicious light, and such a characterization would deflate the masterful tension of later acts.
The Crumbling Center: At the first indication that Mina’s unhealthy suspicions are having an adverse effect on the health of their infant child, Jude’s conflict is one that is desperate and unnerving. Every second without resolution is felt. The complexities of domestic law become terrifying beyond imagination. Jude, never presented to be a perfect father or husband, is placed in a marriage matched against an antagonist who, in her legal protection and unabashed mental manipulation, proves to be one of the most frightening film villains of the year. Fabio Cianchetti’s camera moves physically closer to the couple as things grow more and more tense, establishing a tone of desperate intimacy, a reminder that Jude’s assumed masculine obligation is more than that of just saving the child, but also saving his marriage and family structure, a poisonous mix of ideas when the first conflicts with the second.
Overall: Hungry Hearts leans on a slick and stylish craftsmanship that serves the unsettling story well. There are hints of Polanski and Haneke in this drama-turned-thriller, as well as a dash of some ingredient that is uniquely Costanzo’s. The end result is an unsettling thriller which patiently accomplishes big film success on an evidently limited budget with a skilled, patient approach.