Venice 2014: 'Hungry Hearts' review

Saverio Costanzo returns to Venice in competition with his second film, Hungry Hearts (2014), a claustrophobic drama about a young couple and their conflicting views on parenting. Adam Driver plays Jude (Thomas Hardy would be a good point of reference here), a lanky engineer living in New York. He meets Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), an Italian working at the embassy, in unfortunate comic circumstances. He is having an awkward toilet moment and she accidentally locks herself in the bathroom of a restaurant with him. There's a kooky feel to the opening scene which is played out in a necessarily cramped close up, which will have Driver's fans from HBO's Girls getting perhaps the wrong ideas.

With admirably dense economy the couple bed, impreg and wed in almost as many scenes. The wedding is one long jolly and with everyone uncontrollably laughing so much and Driver's Jude attempting an Italian love song, things could either go quirky rom-com or horribly wrong. Something wicked this way comes slowly, with Mina having a nasty dream and then having a hissy fit at the doctors during the baby scan. It soon becomes apparent that she's not eating enough and when the baby is born, Mina becomes obsessed with the baby's own diet, hygiene and safety, refusing any medical advice and reading up on new age and alternative remedies. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the baby is suffering and Jude becomes more desperate, Hungry Hearts begins to run into problems.

The behaviour of the doctors consulted and the legal advice Jude receives feels more true to the Italian context of the novel - Marco Franzoso's Il Bambino Indauco - than New York. The new agedness of Mina is also tilted too quickly into obvious mental problems for there to be any balance. Costanzo chooses a much more indie feel, compared to his slicker 2010 Venice offering The Solitude of Prime Numbers, filming digitally and almost always in tight shots. Mina and Jude's cramped apartment seems to have the walls literally closing in. The movie loses the lightness and economy of the opening as Costanzo hammers home his symbolism. When the arch-vegan Mina visits the home of Jude's mother Anne (Roberta Maxwell), he makes it into a lodge of hunting trophies along with Chekov's rifle perched prominently on the wall. Although there is certainly tension at moments and Driver once more proves himself an actor of great promise, Hungry Hearts falls between two baby chairs - neither satisfying as a thriller nor convincing as a drama.

The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.

John Bleasdale


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