Saverio Costanzo unfolds Hungry Hearts as a series of vignettes that veer from romantic comedy to horror. Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) meet-cute while trapped in a Chinese restaurant’s basement restroom.
What initially seems like a delightful, throwaway opening is loaded with portents: the uptight engineer experiencing digestive issues in the uncomfortably tight space; the isolated Italian transplant battling a congested New York City that’s constantly assaulting her senses. A pregnancy and marriage follow in quick succession, but when Jude and Mina settle into his top-floor apartment, the already angled walls close in on them.
Mina, who barely ate during pregnancy, sees most food as “poison” and the “outside” as toxic, and dismisses medical advice that contradicts her instinctual certainties. When Jude gives their severely underweight infant son baby food (or any meat), she counters with a powerful laxative. The Italian writer-director avoids using hot-button language (anorexia, postpartum depression, anti-vaxxer) to categorize Mina’s behavior, and doesn’t explore her assertion that their “indigo child” possesses special powers (a mystical aspect more prevalent in the source material, Marco Franzoso’s novel Il Bambino Indaco).
Hungry Hearts owes much to early Polanski (especially Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby), but Costanzo prizes ambiguity over tension. Even the film’s malevolence is amorphous: Driver’s passionate concern looks more like parental love than Rohrwacher’s possessive aloofness, but neither perspective is fully embraced. After intimately following their struggles, Costanzo infantilizes these young parents by taking the most important decision out of their hands.