Film Review: ‘Thirst Street’

Lindsay Burdge's intrepid performance as a woman unable to let go of a one-night stand galvanizes Nathan Silver's sharply stylized character study.

Nathan Silver
Lindsay Burdge, Damien Bonnard, Esther Garrel, Lola Bessis, Cindy Silver, Valerie Laury, Jacques Nolot, Francoise Lebrun, Anjelica Huston (narrator). (English, French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5802404/

Nathan Silver has an eye for a great face — a beautiful one, marked and matured and made extraordinary by feeling — that you don’t typically see at the center of a movie. Actress Lindsay Burdge has one of those. It’s her fine-lined, progressively devastated visage, often held in close-up that’s both adoring and unforgiving, that carries us through the stressful emotional machinations of “Thirst Street,” Silver’s most excitingly stylized microbudget indie to date. Taking a leaf (or several, in enticing sherbet shades) from Fassbinder and the arch experimentalism of 1970s psychodrama, with a dusting of the same decade’s Eurotica, this compact but internally unruly tragicomedy centers on a grief-stricken young flight attendant driven to obsessive madness by an over-extended one-night stand in Paris — tracking her as intimately and relentlessly as she does her callous male quarry.

Thirst Street” isn’t exactly kind to its protagonist, whose extreme self-debasement for the sake of an unworthy man follows in the tradition of vintage melodrama — until a third-act kicker takes proceedings into potential revenge territory, the feminist implications of which not all viewers are likely to agree on. Even at its cruelest, however, the guiding perspective never strays from its heroine, Gina, and her desires, however misplaced; her plunging loneliness is continuously felt, even in the pic’s busiest, most fluorescent interludes. If we occasionally sense a disconnect between the scraped-raw characterization of Gina herself and the elaborately heightened formal approach of Silver and his ace cinematographer Sean Price Williams — their visual register ranging from gauzy softcore to iridescent Old Hollywood nostalgia — that itself seems reflective of her own dissociated state. Anjelica Huston’s arch, analytical narration, meanwhile, provides a chilly bridge throughout between inner and outer lives.

A pre-title sequence establishing the origin of Gina’s heartache unfolds with compelling economy, conveying the broken arc of a single ill-fated romance in mere minutes, with enough bejeweled human detail to stand as a short film on its own. In it, the New York State singleton’s globe-hopping but humdrum life of overlooked professional servility is illuminated when she meets sensitive academic Paul (Damien Bonnard), but their swift, blissful union cannot last: With her constant, job-dictated absences playing on his psychological frailties, Paul commits suicide. Having love withdrawn as suddenly as it was offered sends Gina into a tailspin. Only a layover in Paris, encouraged by an older colleague (Silver’s mother and regular collaborator Cindy) and a dubious tarot reader, does she muster the courage to talk to another man.

Unluckily for her, that man happens to be morosely mustachioed strip-joint bartender Jerome (Bonnard again, ominously enough), a serial player who sleeps with her once and forgets her name by dawn. No amount of stiff body language, monosyllabic grunts and subsequent text-ghosting on his part, however, can convince the unworldly Gina that he’s no keeper. Instead, hell-bent on regaining true romance, she quits her job, moves to Paris and rents an apartment across the road from her unresponsive lover, finally scoring a waitressing job at his seedy place of work.

This is behavior that many a commercial genre film — from romantic comedies to domestic thrillers — might depict from the man’s point of view as plainly psychotic, but “Thirst Street’s” script, co-written by the director and C. Mason Wells, is rather more even-handed. It’s not only Gina’s irrational impulses and wince-inducing inability to take a hint that are exposed, but the passive-aggressive ways in which Jerome continues to lead her on, and even to casually exploit her ill-considered devotion, all while rekindling relations with his bemused punk-singer ex Clemence (a superbly tart, thorny Esther Garrel). This impasse of the heart makes for acutely, intentionally painful viewing, as Gina’s attempts to regain even Jerome’s moderate interest extend to disquieting levels of self-abuse — a descent barely alleviated by an under-developed, erotically charged subplot concerning her friendship with female club worker Charlie (Lola Bessis).

It’s Burdge who brings flickering light and shade to this tough trawl through wallflower hell, as Gina’s sometimes overlapping processes of devotion, delusion, denial and final dawning play across her solemn but all-too-vulnerable face, often with little supplementary dialogue; it’s a remarkable performance that appears to draw equal inspiration from the minimalism of mumblecore and the most expressive anguish of a Hanna Schygulla.

She has a fine, tricky scene partner in Bonnard — as intriguingly abstruse here as in his breakout turn in the recent Alain Guiraudie puzzler “Staying Vertical” — though her closest collaborative ally might be Price Williams, whose typically inspired camerawork lights her suffering in expressionistic stabs of neon or stripped shades of gray, as required. The soundtrack shifts in tone nearly as restlessly as the image, switching from saccharine orchestral sweep to the cracked karaoke tremble of Gina’s wishfully on-the-nose rendition of “Time Is On My Side,” to the unexpectedly earthy Nashville truth-telling of Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman”: “If you’re born a woman, you’re born to be hurt,” she croons, as we hope against slender hope for Gina to subvert that diktat.

Film Review: 'Thirst Street'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Sept. 7, 2017. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival — U.S. Narrative Competition.) Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: A Samuel Goldwyn Films release of an In Vivo Films, Industry Standard Films, Maudit, Papermoon Films, Washington Square Films, Yellow Bear Films presentation in association with Salem Street Entertainment, The Third Generation, TTM Films, UNLTD Prods., Bauen Holdings, Solab Pictures. (International sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Producers: Louise Bellicaud, Claire Charles-Gervais, Josh Mandel, C. Mason Wells, Ruben Amar, Katie Stern, Joshua Blum, Matthew Ellison. Executive producers: Jason Dreyer, Todd Remis, David Moscow, Armin Tehrany, Valerie Tehrany, Andrew Morrison. Co-producers: David Solal, Elsa Leeb, Jordan Goldnabel, Matthew Smaglik. Co-executive producer: Diane Lanyi.

Crew: Director: Nathan Silver. Screenplay: Silver, C. Mason Wells. Camera (color, widescreen): Sean Price Williams. Editors: Hugo Lemant, John Magary. Music: Paul Grimstad.

With: Lindsay Burdge, Damien Bonnard, Esther Garrel, Lola Bessis, Cindy Silver, Valerie Laury, Jacques Nolot, Francoise Lebrun, Anjelica Huston (narrator). (English, French dialogue)

More Film


    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Proposal for New Film-TV Contract

    The SAG-AFTRA national board has approved proposals for a successor deal to its master contract covering feature film and primetime television — a key step in the upcoming negotiations cycle with companies. The board approved the package Saturday with the performers union declining to reveal any specifics — its usual policy. The board established the wages [...]

  • Cameron Crowe, David Crosby, A.J. Eaton.

    Cameron Crowe on Why He Loved Leaving David Crosby Doc on a CSNY Question Mark

    David Crosby may or may not have stuck a joint in Cameron Crowe’s mouth the first time he ever met the future filmmaker, when Crosby was peaking with Crosby Stills Nash & Young and his interviewer was a precocious 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent. As Crowe said to Jimmy Kimmel the other night, “I remember it [...]

  • Mokalik

    Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t Be ‘Second-Class’

    DURBAN–A young boy from a middle-class home gets an unconventional schooling in the ways of the world when he’s forced to apprentice at a mechanic’s workshop in a rough-and-tumble section of Lagos. “Mokalik” is the latest feature from Kunle Afolayan, a leading figure in the wave of filmmakers revitalizing the Nigerian film industry. The film [...]

  • Alicia Rodis photographed by Alicia Rodis

    SAG-AFTRA Moves to Standardize Guidelines for Intimacy Coordinators

    SAG-AFTRA is moving to standardize guidelines for intimacy coordinators as part of an effort to establish policies for union members when their work involves nudity and simulated sex. “Our goal is to normalize and promote the use of intimacy coordinators within our industry,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “Intimacy coordinators provide an important safety net for [...]

  • The Lion King

    Box Office: 'The Lion King' Roars Overseas With Mighty $269 Million

    Disney’s “The Lion King” certainly felt the love this weekend, generating $269 million at the international box office. Director Jon Favreau’s remake of the classic Disney cartoon now holds the eighth-biggest debut of all time overseas, and that’s not including the film’s early opening in China last weekend. Combined with a stellar $185 million start [...]

  • Scarlett JohanssonMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Scarlett Johansson Reveals What We'll Learn About Black Widow in Stand-Alone Movie

    Scarlett Johansson can finally talk about her upcoming “Black Widow” movie. While she can’t divulge spoilers, she let out a big sigh of relief after the film was officially announced on Saturday during the Marvel Studios presentation at Comic-Con. “I feel like a weight has been lifted,” the Oscar nominee told Variety. “Black Widow” is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content