Thirst Street is a corrective to the scores of movies – American and otherwise – that portray unrequited romantic obsession as something other than what it really is: a slippery slope that’s all but guaranteed to end with someone getting hurt, and badly, at that.
Directed and co-written by Nathan Silver, the film takes 70s-era erotic arthouse dramas as its stylistic inspiration but has, as its protagonist, a character that wouldn’t seem out of place in a whimsical romantic comedy. She’s Gina (Lindsay Burdge), a thirtysomething American flight attendant who’s coaxed into spending a night on the town in Paris by her well-meaning coworkers. The setup screams starry-eyed escapade except for one important detail: Gina’s husband has recently committed suicide, and she’s sunk into a deep depression, tinged with guilt, in the wake of his untimely death.
“A slippery slope that’s all but guaranteed to end with someone getting hurt, and badly, at that.”
That makes her particularly susceptible to the seductive charms of Jerome (Damien Bonnard), a just-dashing-enough Parisian nightclub bartender with whom she shares a rather unsatisfying-looking one-night stand. He’s very clearly not interested in taking things any further, but Gina falls for him, hard, and in the relative blink of an eye, she uproots her life, moves to Paris (right across the street from Jerome’s apartment, unbeknownst to him), and begins carrying on as if she and her disinterested, dismissive would-be paramour are the featured players in one of the sappy old Hollywood romances she’s enamored with. Things, as the film is hardly shy about foreshadowing, get even more uncomfortable from there.
Despite its darkly comedic touches, the most amusing of which is narration by Angelica Huston that presents Gina’s fanciful, often delusional perspective on what’s actually happening onscreen, Thirst Street more than follows through on the emotional trainwreck that it sets up in the early going. The film has an intoxicating atmosphere and look, lushly photographed in saturated hues by Sean Price Williams, but any lingering sense of sexiness is undercut by the grim inevitability of the situation as Gina’s encounters with Jerome become progressively more desperate and heartbreaking.
That downward spiral makes Thirst Street somewhat difficult to fully connect with on an emotional level since, even considering her addled psychological state, Gina makes more than a few decisions that are irrational to the point of seriously straining audience sympathy. Maybe that’s the point, and the film thankfully never plunges too far into cringe-comedy or truly implausible psychotic behavior, but the degree to which its protagonist is unwilling or unable to take Jerome’s painfully obvious hints does begin to take its toll. Increasingly, the impulse is to reach into the screen and shake some sense into her.
“The hypnotic visuals and the film’s sheer courage in its convictions make it a fairly intriguing overall package.”
For her part, Burdge, recently in Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, is terrific, and Gina’s tense, awkward interactions with Jerome’s on-again, off-again musician girlfriend (Esther Garrel) – all forced smiles and suspicious sideways glances – are as grimly fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the highway. It’s a star-making turn, for sure, and a good indicator that Burdge would make for a memorable lead in either a conventional cinematic romance or a darker, more explicitly harrowing psychological thriller.
That performance alone might make Thirst Street worth seeing, and while the story offers few real surprises (though the question of “how bad are things going to get?” is likely to arise a lot), the hypnotic visuals and the film’s sheer courage in its convictions make it a fairly intriguing overall package nonetheless. There are no cop-outs, here, no sugarcoating, and no sense that Gina is ever really doing what’s best for herself. Instead, viewers are mostly left to cringe as she heads toward something that’s bound to be terrible, but it’s all so well-crafted that it’s rather impossible to look away.
Thirst Street (2017) Directed by Nathan Silver. Written by Silver and C. Mason Wells. Starring Lindsay Burdge, Damien Bonnard, Esther Garrel, Lola Bessis, Jacques Nolot
3 ½ out of 5