Saverio Costanzo (left) with Alba Rohrwacher .
(photo credit: REUVEN COHEN)
Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts, which was screened last week at the 30th Haifa International Film Festival, deals with a gripping and disturbing question: What should a young father do when the wife he loves, out of the best motives in the world, is causing great, possibly irreparable harm to their baby? The movie, which stars Adam Driver, best known as Lena Dunham’s boyfriend on the HBO series Girls, as the father, and Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher as the mother, won the Best Actor and Best Actress Awards at last month’s Venice International Film Festival.
Rohrwacher, who is the sister of director Alice Rohrwacher, accompanied Costanzo on his visit to Haifa, and the two discussed what it was like to work on such an emotionally demanding film.
“For me, the film was a kind of catharsis, a way to forgive myself as a father,” said Costanzo, who is divorced and has two young children. “It’s like a Greek tragedy.”
He read the novel by Marco Franzoso, on which the movie was based, and found that he “couldn’t forget it.”
The mother in the story, Mina, is a young Italian immigrant in New York whose desire to eat healthy food becomes an obsession with purity after her son is born. She underfeeds her baby son so severely that she is slowly starving him.
Her husband, Jude (Driver), does not comprehend how serious the situation is at first, but when he tries to take action, it leads to tragedy. The couple in the film have little contact with family and friends, and are very isolated although they live right in the middle of the chaos and noise of Manhattan.
“The point is, the story is a love story.
Mina loves the baby so much, she has a vision of purity and protecting him. Even when she goes out of her mind, her actions are guided by love,” said Costanzo.
Costanzo, who lived in New York for two and a half years when he was a student, said, “It had to be in a big city, and New York can be so big and scary, violent and stinky. Mina is a foreigner, isolated from the outside world. Jude has a mother, but they don’t get along well. They have this typical American relationship where you talk once a year. Not close.”
Although many viewers may see Mina as a monster, Alba Rohrwacher said she felt very close to this character.
“I know Mina very well, she is somewhere in me,” she said. “The script was very clear and I know Saverio so well, I wasn’t afraid of anything.” The two worked together before on The Solitude of Prime Numbers in 2010, for which she also won a Best Actress Award at Venice.
Both the director and the actress developed a very close relationship with Driver.
“Adam and I share a common universe of symbols. He testifies in his work, he’s bearing witness,” said Costanzo. “It’s real all the time with Adam... whatever he does it makes a statement... I didn’t see so many shows of Girls but when I saw him I fell in love with his face, his face is fantastic... He and Alba look a little bit alike.”
“Adam and I had the same vision of the work,” Rohrwacher said. “We worked together in a very easy and natural way.”
Working with Driver was so important for Costanzo that he built the shooting schedule around Driver’s work on Girls, and the movie was made in less than a month, on a very low budget.
Costanzo, who started out making documentaries, directed the award-winning 2004 feature Private, starring Mohammad Bakri, a film about a Palestinian family whose house is commandeered by the Israeli army. He has also directed episodes of the Italian version of BeTipul, the Israeli television series that was adapted in America as In Treatment.
The director said he enjoys the process of making movies and competing in festivals.
“I like the process of writing and shooting. We always forget a job is how you live your life, and the way cinema gives time to my life satisfies me. Writing by myself is a solitary way to work, then when filming, you share things with people and live in a noisy and crowded atmosphere, then you go back to solitude in the editing room, and finally you take it out into the world....What happens in the process of making a film is lovely and challenging.”