Into the abyss with Alba Rohrwacher

Inside Saverio Costanzo's Hungry Hearts.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Cannes Un Certain Regard jury president Isabella Rossellini with Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo and Alba Rohrwacher
Cannes Un Certain Regard jury president Isabella Rossellini with Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo and Alba Rohrwacher Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Italian Sunday Brunch organised elegantly by Sally Fischer for Istituto Luce Cinecittà to honor Paolo Taviani (Wondrous Boccaccio), Cosima Spender (Palio), Laura Bispuri (Sworn Virgin), Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts), Alba Rohrwacher, Flonja Kodheli and producer Marta Donzelli at Soho House during the Tribeca Film Festival, Alba and I spoke about working with Adam Driver and getting to know New York.

Alba Rohrwacher as Mina in Hungry Hearts:
Alba Rohrwacher as Mina in Hungry Hearts: "Saverio is a very strong director, so we can trust him."

Saverio Costanzo's Hungry Hearts stars Rohrwacher as Mina and Driver as Jude, with Roberta Maxwell as Jude's mother. Adapted from Marco Franzoso's novel, The Indigo Child, by Costanzo, is many things - a thriller, a deep hard stare into the nature of escape, a comedy of metaphors and an alluringly photographed glimpse into the abyss. Rohrwacher and Driver breathe so much of their characters' unconscious motivation into the tiniest reactions, that it feels as though we truly get to watch their thoughts transforming. And these thoughts are often highly disturbing.

What does it mean to have responsibility for another being? Can the same thing that you think is good for you be fatal for another? Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative has an age limit.

Anne-Katrin Titze: When you read Saverio's screenplay, were you surprised where it was going?

Alba Rohrwacher: The screenplay was very precise and it caught my attention immediately. The characters were alive immediately. When I read the script, I had fear. It's something that attracted me and also put me in danger, because the topic is a taboo. I know the work of Saverio because we did a movie together five years ago, The Solitude Of Prime Numbers (La solitudine Dei Numeri Primi). I immediately understood that this movie could be a journey. So I was very grateful to him that he proposed for me to play the character of Mina.

Alba Rohrwacher on Adam Driver as Jude:
Alba Rohrwacher on Adam Driver as Jude: "The way Adam is looking for things is very near to the way I'm looking for things."

AKT: It is a journey that begins in a bathroom and the tone is so light.

We enter a turquoise bathroom with a stuck door of a Chinese restaurant in New York City, where Mina in a lemony blouse, meets Jude and their lives will never be the same. Absurdly funny and simultaneously cracking open the door into the territory of the body and its functions, shame and rescue precariously co-exist.

AR: Like life, you know, you can always see the other angle. So for me the first scene is very light and very funny but you can recognise a lot of things there and then. Two people closed in a very small space, there's a smell that came from something that is a sickness and it's about food. And then they wait for someone that saves them from outside. So it's a comedy but you can see it's organic with the movie.

AKT: The topic of food and the widespread disorders around it is, as you said, a taboo. Food is no longer just nourishment.

AR: No, it's political.

Alba Rohrwacher also stars in Laura Bispuri's Sworn Virgin
Alba Rohrwacher also stars in Laura Bispuri's Sworn Virgin Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Did you know Adam Driver before this film?

AR: No, we met just one month before the movie was shot and we did very few rehearsals, just a reading of the script and then we jumped right on the work. But what happened is something that is also lucky. Of course, Saverio is a very strong director, so we can trust him. The way Adam is looking for things is very near to the way I'm looking for things. So we were immediately very together.

It's not that we had to find a way to be together. We share the same vision of art, a similar vision. We didn't rehearse a lot but I felt we are companions on the journey. We made the journey together. And we were like a trio, because Saverio is also the camera operator of the movie and you see the movie takes place in a very tiny space. So there is Adam, me, and Saverio and it feels like we dance a tango of three.

AKT: It is interesting when a third character in the film enters into this structure, such as the mother, who breaks down some of the couple's construct. New York as the setting has an important function. How well do you know the city?

AR: I know New York but I discovered more with the movie because I lived here for four months, more or less.

Alba Rohrwacher:
Alba Rohrwacher: "I think you can understand a city like New York maybe after 10 years or maybe never in your life…"

AKT: The year before last?

AR: Yes, during the movie. I had an apartment so I can have a real life, you know. It's not that I stayed in a hotel far away, like now. We stay in a hotel, we do only press. That's not life.

AKT: Did you get a sense of living in the city?

AR: A little bit. Because I think you can understand a city like New York maybe after 10 years or maybe never in your life, because it's so complex.

AKT: There are some shots of you, walking in the streets, where you look almost like a little girl in you coat and boots, who is completely lost.

Mina, whose mother died when she was two, looks forlorn in the big city, an ageless little girl in spirit, herself becoming a mother without knowing what that is supposed to mean. Costanzo shoots Rohrwacher from above lost on the town, walking in flat brown lace-up ankle boots, as though she just arrived from the mountains or the Kindertransport.

AR: Alone.

AKT: Although you are surrounded by people.

AR: You are in the middle of everything but you could be alone. And Mina is completely like this.

Coming up, a conversation with Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo.

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