We are all accustomed to think of motherhood as sweet and the birth of a baby a God-send which will elicit production of incredible amounts of the magical caring hormone called oxytocin which will turn otherwise egoistical, hard-hearted, no-sense beasts into loving parents. That may not be false but if we may judge from Italian director Saverio Constanzo's film Hungry Hearts (幸福魔天輪), there may well be another side to this common belief.
As the film starts, we find two characters meeting in the most unusual circumstances: Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) got into the male toilet by mistake where another guy, Jude (Adam Driver) was relieving himself from a particularly bad case of diarrhorea. The embarrassment and the unutterable stench inside a tiny and stuffy New York Chinese restaurant toilet the door to which got stuck may not be the most auspicious beginning to a romantic relationship. But strangely, one developed. And before long, we hear weddding bells because Mina was pregnant and the surprised Jude decided that he must take it like a man. This is where the film started to be interesting.
We soon learn that Mina has a psychological problem: she can't stand dirt or pollution of any kind, particularly where food is concerned. She would take nothing but 100 percent vegetarian meals. Jude obliged and got thinner as a result. But that's not where it stopped. Mina's baby was undeveloped as a result of her obviously inadequate diet but in line with her unalterable convictions about doing things "naturally", she insisted on giving birth without anaesthetics and without an operation. Her underweight and undernourished body was however too weak to support such an ordeal and she was reluctantly forced by the doctor in the middle of the "natural birth" by having it in water, to have a C-section. Before the baby's birth, she consulted a fortune teller who told her that her child will be special, "an indigo child" blessed with mysterious spiritual powers and hence needed special protection.
As the film develops, her baby ceased to develop in her womb and was born underweight and survived only in an incubator and even after birth the baby was cut off from all milk,including that from her poorly equipped breasts 4 months after birth and ate nothing but vegetable mashes and fruit juice, but the baby's brain and body stopped development after two months because according to the doctor, Mina did not feed her properly and the nourishment the baby got from her the home-grown veggies Mina produced on her make-shift roof-top green house was clearly insufficient to support his normal development and in addition, she was making the child constantly take a kind of herbal oil which Mina firmly believed would be good for her child but which in fact stopped the baby from absorbing other needed nutrients and she would never allow the child to go outside of her apartment in the firm belief that the air outside may injure the child's health. Jude had to take the baby for medical examination and to feed the baby some baby food containing meat on the sly as if he was a thief. To feed the child, he started to take French leave from his work because he was worried to death that if what Mina was doing continued, the child might suffer irreparable damage to his mental and physical development as he was told by his baby's doctor.
It is well that couples should respect each other's values and whenever possible accommodate the other's wishes. But when doing so may threaten the life of a third party completely powerless to speak for and defend himself, should that principle still be religiously adhered to? This I think must be the question raised by the film. In the end, the problem got so serious that Anne (Roberta Maxwell), Jude's mother, a woman who is fond of hunting wild animals, was forced to take matters into her own hands. Whilst trying to snatch the child away from Mina, she accidentally shot her and when the film ends, we see her all alone in prisoner's clothes in a jail cell. Will she have a defence or has she been tried and convicted and if so, for murder or for manslaughter? We were not told. But precisely because that remains uncertain, we are left with lots of moral questions in our mind when we leave the cinema. Apparent innocence coupled with misguided beliefs in New Age mumbo-jumbo verging on superstition can be a form of slow poison which drives a wedge between a couple and can be fatal for their child and if continued unabated even literally fatal for such the faithful believer herself.
The performance of both Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver were excellent, winning respectively the best actor and actress award at the Venice Film Festival 2015, Alba as the model of the fragile, ostensibly weak, loving, protective, stubborn but misguided mother Mina, obsessed with her individual notions about the importance of simplicity and purity, who does not believe in medical science but only in alternative medicine, organic food and New Age spirituality who always acted as if she were a "victim" whom nobody would understand and Adam Driver as the sensitive, caring father who was trying to do his best in the interest of the child and who was at his wits end on what he could do, having consulted the pediatrician and a social worker on how he could resume control of the child after hitting Mina during a quarrel about how they should deal with their boy and thereby causing a torn lip when she fell and hit the corner of a table and was as a result of Mina's immediate but unannounced application to the court, served with an injunction/restraining order restricting his right of access to his own child but who was torn between his desire to love and respect his wife and his desire to do what he can for the obviously wasting and suffering child. The plot was well written and the story told entirely by cinematic images without any unnecessary words, aided also by the quiet and wistful and haunting melody of the theme song by Nicola Piovani which also won the best musical score award by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. Saverio Constanzo also won the best director award at the Stockholm Film Festival