Review: Hungry Hearts, A Portrait of Paranoid Parenting

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With a literally shitty meet cute, Hungry Hearts has the sort of disarming, genre-defying opening that’s sadly absent from many thrillers. Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) enters a tiny bathroom in the basement of a Chinese restaurant, barging in on Jude (Adam Driver), in the diarrheal throes of food poisoning. The door jams and the two get acquainted in an impossibly awkward dilemma. In these wincing, one take moments, the performers’ chemistry is sweet and real; their introduction and ultimate warming not defined by the ‘type’ of movie they’re in. Which is to say their language isn’t saddled with ominous foreshadowing of the paranoid parenting to come. Their cramped, claustrophobic environment however, totally is.

The glow of marriage is minutes-long in Hungry Hearts, confined (like much of the film’s atmosphere) to Mina and Jude’s charmingly lo-fi reception in Coney Island. The movie, and director Saverio Costanzo (writing from a novel by Marco Franzoso), is far more concerned with the way pregnancy, childbirth and parenting can send perspective askew into a Polanski-like land. Hungry Hearts moves quickly to a prenatal Mina, where her unease with sonogram technology and lack of nutrition hint at anxieties to come. Mina and Jude’s cramped walk-up is at first a perch for this hip couple, but before long it is nesting frightening, if perhaps understandable behavior.

Though ensconced in paranoid atmosphere, much of Hungry Hearts could be play out as a drama. It’s Costanzo who refuses to see it that way. The filmmaker and cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti put a literal horror lens on new parenthood. Destabilizing, sporadic Dutch angles, fish eye views and high surveys their tiny space warp the already cramped apartment, as an increasingly sickly Mina (recalling Mia Farrow’s withering in Rosemary, only post-partum) puts their new, under-developing child in danger.

Mina distrusts the outside world and most especially, medical doctors. It’s a striking parallel to an increasingly anti-science and anti-intellectual culture—which favors the opinions of amateurs, not experts—but also what I imagine to be an authentic experience. Though not a parent, it does seem easy to slip into mistrust, for your overwhelming care to believe in instinct alone. Costanzo doesn’t use this similarity for satire however. Mina is no easy conservative punching bag, or Jenny McCarthy type, which helps ground the circumstance and build suspense.

Instead, Costanzo takes this all-too-believable experience and lets the horror aesthetics—including nauseous coloring and Rohwacher’s terrific, unstable performance—eventually lead the film into heightened, extreme and terrifying territory.