The disturbing drama “Hungry Hearts” is a creepy, stylish story that’s just short of a horror film.
The film, set in New York, stars Adam Driver, from HBO’s “Girls,” and Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher. Saverio Costanzo directed the film and adapted the screenplay from Marco Franzoso’s novel, “Il Bambino Indaco.”
The English-language “Hungry Hearts,” Costanzo’s fourth feature film, shows that at 39, he’s a gifted young director. In this film, though, he affectedly includes too many sequences set to music with no dialogue that hinder the plot’s increasingly troubling progression.
There are red herrings in “Hungry Hearts,” too, including the unlikely first encounter between Driver’s character, an American named Jude, and Rohrwacher’s Italian immigrant, Mina.
It’s puzzling that Jude apparently has no idea who this woman he marries is. And Mina is one person before the marriage, and then someone else entirely after the birth of the couple’s son.
Driver and Rohrwacher fully inhabit their disparate characters. When Jude and Mina’s life together becomes something terrible, both actors give performances that never strike a false note. No director could ask for more.
Driver is the worried new father who suspects that his wife is not properly caring for their son. Rohrwacher plays a loving mother on the one hand and a dangerous fanatic on the other. Mina’s fear for her infant son’s health consumes her.
Jude and Mina’s initial meeting and the courtship and marriage that follow fly by. It’s a quick intro to the story Costanzo wants most to tell: a tale of suspicion, trust tested and betrayed and a once passionate relationship unraveling. Most of all, the story centers around the impasse Jude and Mina reach concerning their child.
Mina suddenly becomes obsessed with veganism and cleanliness. For instance, she insists that shoes not be worn in the couple’s apartment. And she refuses to take the child outside.
The couple isolates itself from friends. Jude even stays away from the office. And there’s worse.
The film’s third principle character, Jude’s mother (Roberta Maxwell), is also ignored by her son and daughter-in-law. When she finally makes an unannounced visit to their apartment, it’s clear to her that something is very wrong.
Tension grows while the bewildered and later desperate Jude hesitates. Even as he watches his wife potentially harm their son, he loves her and wants their unexpectedly soured marriage to work.
Costanzo’s knack for casting a dreadful mood suggests he’d do well to make outright horror movies. But he needs a script with fewer leaps and holes in it. Otherwise, he appears poised for bigger stories and much bigger budgets.