Erotic thriller or winking parody: sexy indie straddles the line
Thirst Street (2017)
Directed by Nathan Silver
Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Damien Bonnard, Anjelica Huston
Brooklyn-based indie filmmaker Nathan Silver (Uncertain Terms, Stinking Heaven, Exit Elena) channels his inner Pedro Almodóvar with his latest film, the delightfully twisted, candy-colored tale of desperate desire Thirst Street. Whereas Almodóvar has spent much of his career remixing the domestic melodramas of Douglas Sirk, Silver turns to erotic European dramas of the 1970s for inspiration. The disjointed but blackly comic results look something like a romantic comedy as directed by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento.
Narrated in aloof, even tones by Anjelica Huston (nice “get” there, Nathan), Thirst Street takes on the feel of a demented fairy tale read to a house full of sleepy sorority girls as a cautionary tale. The story centers around a flight attendant by the name of Gina (Lindsay Burdge from The Invitation and A Teacher). In the film’s preamble, we are informed that Gina’s boyfriend recently committed suicide. While on a layover in Paris, Gina’s coworkers drag the devastated woman to a cheap fortune teller, who spins an uplifting story about finding new love. Emotionally fragile, Gina has been turning to the horoscopes lately in the misguided belief that there’s some sort of destiny at work in her life, that things happen for a reason. As a result she’s unusually susceptible to the tarot reader’s sketchy advice. While visiting a seedy cabaret, Gina spots a skeezy bartender named Jérome (Damien Bonnard from Dunkirk and Staying Vertical) and decides to jump into bed with him.
Such spur-of-the-moment, Zinfandel-fueled hookups are generally a bad idea, and we—as viewers—can tell that Jérome isn’t such a great catch. Silver stages his sex scenes with a free-spirited bluntness and lots of splashy, red and blue lighting. There is a certain giddy pleasure in the film’s erotic interludes, and we might think—for a moment anyway—that maybe a bit of Last Tango in Paris-style sex is exactly what Gina needs to clear her head. But it’s Jérome who ends up feeling the lingering effects of this one night stand.
Gina, you see, immediately throws caution to the wind, quits her job and moves into an apartment across the street from Jérome. Seems our gal has got a bad case of that most French disease, amour fou—mad, obsessive passion driven in equal parts by love and lust. Gina shows up on Jérome’s doorstep, “accidentally” bumps into him on the street and eventually takes a job as a waitress in the nightclub where he works—all the while ignoring the glaring indicators that he’s just not that into her.
Thanks to Silver’s slim script, Gina remains something of an enigma throughout the film. Other than her boyfriend’s death, we know basically nothing about her. It’s to Burge’s credit, however, that we sense her vulnerability and still somehow sympathize with her delusional neediness—even when she starts spinning off into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction territory. At some point Jérome’s ex-girlfriend (Esther Garrell) drifts back into the picture, and Gina goes full-on stalker.
Silver lacks Almodóvar’s pure cinematic flair (to say nothing of his obsession with transsexuals and op art wallpaper). But he’s something of a kindred spirit, finding a sardonic sense of humor in his over-the-top deconstruction of a long-forgotten genre. Gauzy, softcore European erotica of the ’70s (the films of Tinto Brass, Just Jaeckin or Jess Franco, for example) always had a dark, cautionary edge to it—as if all the ribald action had to have a scary moral attached to it. Silver just carries that forward into its natural, horror movie extreme. If only the filmmaker could have found another layer beyond the superficial. Over the course of a quick 82 minutes, he gives us some entertaining sex, a trip to Paris, a low-rent striptease or two, a bit of psychodrama/thriller action, a Technicolor dream sequence, some comic interludes and an overall lesson in pathological love. But the writer/director never quite digs into the motivations of his characters or explores the sociopolitical underpinnings of the genre he’s aping. To stick with the theme: Casual sex is great and all—but sometimes you want to get to know the person. Know what I mean?