A Bedeviling Tour-De-Force of Belief and Destruction

in 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Subrahmanyan Viswanath

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival, with its mélange of magical, mesmerizing movies, will be long remembered, at least by this committed cineaste. One of the outstanding films was Italian director Saverio Constanzo’s riveting domestic drama Hungry Hearts, based on Marco Franzoso’s novel Il Bambino Indaco (Indigo Child) and featured in the Narrative Competition section.

Despite the unconventional prologue, Constanzo’s second film has one enthralled within a few minutes, with its taut, edgy narrative. Constanzo and his principal players – Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver, who play the cupid-struck couple Mina and Jude – have their audiences on the edge of their seats, as the domestic bliss turns into one of strife, sufferance and one-upmanship. That both Driver and Rohrwacher won a bushel of awards for their sterling performances, and Constanzo too picked one or two, should speak for itself of the fascinating fare the team whipped up.

At the fulcrum of Hungry Hearts is the pertinent question whether one’s personal belief and conviction should overcome prudent and practical medical intervention, as the pair play ping pong between these two extreme schools of thought.

While Mina believes her Indigo Child is special and like her own vegan disposition should be brought up thus, Jude, on the other hand, is caught between the wish to save his marriage to the endearing, unrelenting wife, and saving their son through medical attention. On the sidelines, Jude’s agitated and angst ridden mother (Roberta Maxwell) is watching the warring couple play it out even as their child wanes into near death.

Set in New York, the film follows the couple as they debate over Mina’s compulsive obsessive syndrome about her own and their child’s diet, hygiene and safety. She refuses any medical advice, gorging on new age and alternative remedies, while Jude is driven to desperation, trying to save his slowly sinking son from perilous doom.

Constanzo whips up a nerve-wrecking winner, as he brilliantly explores the inner workings of a well-meaning, but irrational mind, and a rational, anxious one seeking to fan sense into the other.

Of course, one may find fault with the film’s comical, frivolous introduction, which has the two would be pair locked in the closet of a Chinese bistro, as with its rather hurried, unconvincing cataclysmic closure. Still, Hungry Hearts is a riveting, spine chilling fare that throws light on faith vs. reason, religion vs. rationality, et al., if one goes beyond the peripheral play of a couple caught in the crossfire of my way or no way parental politics and dominance over equity and fair play.

Brutal and beguiling in its searing examination of the theme at hand, Constanzo’s Hungry Hearts turns out a scintillating, soulful and subtle study of various core constituents it seeks to tackle and comes up triumphant. It is this which made the film, despite its faults, the toast of the festival. Indeed, the trio of Constanzo, Driver and Rohrwacher deserve all the kudos and salutes audiences gave them at the screening. Here’s doffing one’s hat for such a compelling, chilling and heart-stopping drama, done with finesse and fluidity of passion and deftness.

Edited by Yael Shuv