REVIEW: Hungry Hearts

30 06 2015

Hungry HeartsSaverio Costanzo’s “Hungry Hearts” pits two philosophies of child-rearing against each other to haunting effect.  After a meet-cute while trapped in the restroom of a Chinese restaurant, Adam Driver’s Jude and Alba Rohrwacher’s Mina begin a relationship that inadvertently spawns a child (and thus a marriage). Jude indulges some of his wife’s whims while pregnant, assuming she will return to a less heightened state of being once she delivers.

But Mina only firms in her resolve to practice unconventional and hyper-protective parenting once their child is born.  She wants the baby on a vegan diet and cannot bear the thought of him leaving the house and receiving exposure to the outside world’s toxicity.  After nine months protecting him in a womb, she feels the need to extend that shelter.  In other words, Mina is the kind of enlightened ignoramus who reads one email and decides not to vaccinate her child.

In theory, helicopter parenting has the best of intentions, but Jude sees its negative externalities whenever the baby appears malnourished and underweight.  Parenting quickly becomes a competition, not a collaboration, as Jude starts taking definitive steps to ensure the security of his offspring.  The claws come out as the couple manipulates the legal system to get their way with the child.

This duel of the fates feels so momentous because of the powerful acting of Adam Driver, who recalls vintage DeNiro in his releases of righteous aggression.  Many roles over the past three years have hinted at this pent-up rage, and “Hungry Hearts” finally provides the vessel for it to reach the surface.  Rohrwacher, while spookily compelling in her own right, far too often relies on playing an absent-minded fruit loop to really give her on-screen counterpart a run for his money.

Costanzo’s film mostly matches their intensity, though hints at a supernatural dimension like “Rosemary’s Baby” that he never intends to portray get a little frustrating.  His film is at its best when the camera, with shakiness and grain, captures the unbearable tension and claustrophobia between two radically different people tied together by the one thing that drives them apart.  B+3stars

REVIEW: The Wonders

3 01 2015

The WondersNew York Film Festival, 2014

Alice Rohrwacher’s “The Wonders” is a tender film of quiet power, offering full satisfaction on a relatively modest scale.  Maria Alexandra Lungu plays Gelsomina, the eldest of four children in a rural Italian beekeeping family.  Her corner-cutting father sets a tone of putting their financial stability above all else, even sacrificing physical well-being in order to protect their honey.

Trying to better their quality of life, Gelsomina submits her family’s farm to compete on the reality show “Countryside Wonders,” which puts pastoral communities on display for the whole nation.  (For those who might not know too much about contemporary Italian culture, watch Matteo Garrone’s savage satire “Reality” to see just how firmly entrenched reality TV is in their collective psyche.)  Her proposal meets vehement opposition from the stern patriarch, who would rather take in a German juvenile delinquent to rescue them from dire straits.

Even with her small amount of power in the family, Gelsomina does her best to make responsible moves on their behalf.  This does require a kind of hardening into adulthood, making the film a bitter coming-of-age tale.  “The Wonders” is as much about innocence lost as it as about maturity gained, placing it in good company with films like “Hide Your Smiling Faces.”

Read the rest of this entry »