Indigo blue

Saverio Costanzo on casting and directing Hungry Hearts.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo in the grip of Wondrous Boccaccio director Paolo Taviani
Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo in the grip of Wondrous Boccaccio director Paolo Taviani Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Soho House in New York, Hungry Hearts director Saverio Costanzo spoke with me about casting Adam Driver to star opposite Alba Rohrwacher in between Driver's work with Noah Baumbach on While We're Young and as a villain in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams. David Lynch, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Coney Island, the C.G. Jung deer, and the lure of an Indigo Child enter into our consciousness.

The small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Mina (Rohrwacher), Jude (Driver) and their newborn child live is a stone's throw from the Dakota building, home to another special baby. There is emotional intelligence, depth of perception, and a profound terror of being alive that connects both of these films. Whereas Rosemary's Baby built much of the tension on the mother's doubt, Costanzo envelops Mina with a sheer impenetrable cocoon of conviction.

Adam Driver (Jude) Alba Rohrwacher (Mina):
Adam Driver (Jude) Alba Rohrwacher (Mina): "Because there are two people forced to face themselves in a very deep way in a very tight place…"

Anne-Katrin Titze: Alba and Adam Driver are terrific together. How did you come up with that combination?

Saverio Costanzo: I wrote the film thinking of Alba. So she was in the film from the very beginning. Then we came to New York for the casting and I met with the casting director, Doug Aibel, who is a very independent casting director, very good. And the first picture he showed me was Adam Driver's picture. I was like, yeah, I like him, this is exactly the face I was looking for. But he couldn't make it because he was shooting in September While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's film, so I went looking for an actor for about four months in New York. I auditioned a lot of actors, young actors, and I have to say the average is very high. But in America, it's hard to find the "out-of-class", we call it, the real actor.

The average is very high, but to find somebody who brings himself is very hard. So I couldn't find the actor and I was going back to Italy. The day before I was leaving - and I tell you that because it was a very weird thing - the agent of Adam Driver called, saying that he wants to do the film and that he has four weeks free between Noah Baumbach and Star Wars. The villain of Star Wars he's going to play. So we arranged to make it possible.

AKT: I have never seen him in a role like this before.

SC: It's his first role as a leading character.

AKT: He is very good as the creepy guy in John Curran's desert adventure, Tracks. Also in While We're Young …

SC: He's [in While We're Young] the creepy guy again.

Alba Rohrwacher (Mina):
Alba Rohrwacher (Mina): "t's like Jung. He used to say that the deer is like the unconscious."

AKT: You manage in Hungry Hearts to start out with something like, let's call it bathroom humor, and then connect it to something profoundly serious. You have made, in a way, a film about digestion.

SC (cracks up with a belly laugh): And sharing somebody else's smell.

AKT: I love the line when Mina says "you could be arrested for this." Did Alba improvise that or was it in the script?

SC (still cracking up): No, no, it was in the script. Everything was in the script. It was like 20 pages of script, that scene. It was ten minutes long. That scene, at the end of the film, if you go back, you understand that that scene is not just funny. It tells a lot about whatever is going to happen in the film. Because there are two people forced to face themselves in a very deep way in a very tight place and they have to be saved by somebody else. Somebody else has to come from outside to take them out.

AKT: And they don't even know where they are! You get away with the scene partly because of the colors, her yellow shirt and the turquoise walls. It looks good, that's why we can bear it.

SC: Exactly. The smell and everything. This is exactly what I wanted to do.

AKT: Later on, during the scenes in the apartment, there is more shabbiness. The way she constructs the safety guards for the baby are not perfect looking. It feels incredibly real.

Mina with her mother-in-law (Roberta Maxwell):
Mina with her mother-in-law (Roberta Maxwell): "She believes that she is right."

SC: I'm happy you say so. To make something believable is our work.

AKT: The beach scenes take place in Coney Island, near that strange construction.

SC: Exactly, that kind of pagoda. It's Coney Island, which is one of my favorite places in New York.

AKT: You filmed there in the winter?

SC: In October. We started in October [2013], we ended Christmas.

AKT: The dream of the deer has something of a David Lynch scene.

SC: I love David Lynch.

AKT: What I like so much about your film is that it is not fantasy and reality, but where they merge in real life. We sometimes experience these moments in real life that seem heightened.

SC: It's like Jung. He used to say that the deer is like the unconscious.

AKT: He did?

SC: Yes. In a bush, for example, you see him and then in a second he disappeared, because he's very fast. It's like the unconscious - it comes and then it goes somewhere else. In that moment for me, Mina has an epiphany. She understands everything in that moment. She knows and it's like she sees herself as a deer. Somehow she knows what is going to happen in that moment. But it's her unconscious that tells her that.

Coney Island in Hungry Hearts:
Coney Island in Hungry Hearts: "One of my favorite places in New York."

AKT: The seemingly random encounter with the clairvoyant has a great impact. Can you talk a bit about the idea of an "Indigo Baby"? Is it folklore?

SC: The "Indigo Baby" exists. There are many people thinking that. It's like a New Age tradition. It's something people believe, a lot of people, actually. But I think it's not that. For me is important that for every parent, their child is special. I'm a father, I think my children are special. For me "Indigo Child" is just the moment Mina realises her child is special. You can call it whatever, because then she changes theory after that. As Jude tells the doctor, first she believed in the Indigo Child and then it's something else. The beginning is that she thinks her child is special, like every other mother. But the film is coming from a book, a novel.

AKT: Called "Indigo Child". What changes did you make in your screenplay?

SC: The script is very different from the book. I tried to put the focus on something else. For me this is a love story, the story about a couple becoming parents.

AKT: And about relating to the world, isn't it? Isn't it a constant struggle to relate to the outside world? How do you relate to the world? To this room? What is normal about this? Nothing!

SC: Absolutely correct.

Hungry Hearts US poster
Hungry Hearts US poster

AKT: The conviction Mina builds up is admirable in a way and then it becomes heartbreaking. It made me think of the fairy tale The Juniper Tree, that the Grimms had in the first edition from 1812 of the tales they collected. It has a father eating his son in a stew. He doesn't know it and we are left with this free-floating blame that we can't fully pin down. Mina in a way does not know what she is doing, which makes it so terrifying for us to watch, no?

SC: Sure, absolutely. She believes that she is right. But the movie somehow believes that she is right. We try not to judge anybody, any of the characters. We try to be objective. We try to love them.

AKT: You have such great faces in the movie. Is the clairvoyant a real clairvoyant?

SC: No, she is an extra. She doesn't even talk.

AKT: The mother has a great arch. When she talks to Mina at the wedding and chummily invites her over to visit without her son, it's that usual, ingratiating mother-in-law talk. That idea is soon turned on its head.

SC: You didn't expect that? At all?

AKT: No.

SC: You were shocked in a good way? Or shocked like not believing?

AKT: Definitely in a good way. The comparison that did come to mind, was Rosemary's Baby. How do you feel about that?

SC: Rosemary's Baby is just an aesthetic reference.

AKT: The closed-in apartment? Although it's not exactly the Dakota.

SC: But it's 72nd Street. Our apartment in the film is on the same street!

Hungry Hearts in its vital center is about what nourishes us and what can lead us astray.

Read what Alba Rohrwacher had to say about working with Saverio Costanzo and Adam Driver on Hungry Hearts here.

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