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Lindsay Burdge showed a willingness to hold nothing back in her ballsy portrayal of dangerously single-minded romantic obsession in the 2013 Sundance entry A Teacher. Her character retains even fewer vestiges of dignity or rationality in Nathan Silver’s Thirst Street, an idiosyncratic but distancing genre blend that folds together melodrama, suggestions of horror and a lurid fascination with sex, intoxication and despair evocative of 1970s Euro art movies. While the caustic ending might be interpreted as some kind of feminist revenge twist, the unsympathetic characters and punishing situations will likely confine this to the indie-streaming fringe.
One of the film’s most casually telling sequences — though it barely features Gina, the protagonist played by Burdge — is a striptease routine in a Paris nightclub performed to Sandy Posey’s 1966 hit “Born a Woman.” That Nashville-flavored serve of female martyrdom acquires an ironic edge when a sultry bump and grind accompanies the lyrics: “If you’re born a woman/You’re born to be hurt/You’re born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on/And treated like dirt.”
Gina is an American flight attendant, a profession not lacking in stereotypical associations of sexy servitude. Voiceover narration by Anjelica Huston informs us in a compact introduction that Gina performs her job thanklessly and invisibly until she meets Paul, and a grand romance is born, just like those that fueled her dreams in old movie musicals. But Gina’s constant absences for work feed Paul’s paranoid depression and she returns from a trip to find him hanging from the rafters of their home, dead.
Still stunned, she resumes work and gets assigned to the Paris route, where her colleagues bribe a fortune-teller to predict love in her near future. They head to a club listed in their guidebook as a cabaret venue, only to discover it’s been downgraded to a sleazy strip joint. A few coy glances and one night of messy hotel sex later, Gina shakes off her emotional torpor in a new infatuation with bartender Jerome (Damian Bonnard, Staying Vertical). A seedy type who obviously plays the field and has the magnetism of a slug, Jerome ignores her texts, giving her nothing but a bad case of conjunctivitis. But somehow, Gina convinces herself that he’s sensitive to her pain.
While Burdge’s dogged commitment to the role commands admiration, Gina’s obtuse, masochistic behavior keeps us from investing in her as a character spiraling out of control. Despite receiving little or no encouragement, she relocates to Paris, rents an apartment directly opposite Jerome’s and keeps planting herself in his path, gazing adoringly at him while he brushes her off, scarcely concealing his impatience. There’s trouble in the air with the return onto the scene of Clemence (Esther Garrel, bringing a nice surly edge), a singer in a punk band who supposedly is Jerome’s ex. But still Gina stubbornly ignores the signs.
Not bothering to consult Jerome first, she cozies up to his boss Franz (Jacques Nolot) and starts waitressing at the club. But despite Franz’s expert coaching on how to use her body provocatively to encourage the customers to spend, Gina fails to please. She does her best to keep ignoring the irrefutable reality of Jerome and Clemence, but begins falling into despondency. When he finally makes it clear he’s no longer interested, calling her a crazy stalker, Gina is forced to take drastic measures to regain control.
Silver experiments with tone from the start, introducing notes of arch, quasi-horror in Paul Grimstad’s score and dry, pseudo-psychoanalytical perspective in Huston’s affectless narration. The material might have worked as either a mordant comedy or a bunny-boiler psycho thriller about a woman’s emotional desperation — having Paul and Jerome both played by the same actor feeds the idea of her clinging to a blindly romanticized fantasy. But it never really pushes consistently enough in any direction to be persuasive. And a thread concerning Gina’s friendship with club acquaintance Charlie (Lola Bessis), who may be sexually attracted to her, adds nothing.
As raw and exposed in the role as Burdge is, it gradually becomes wearing watching Gina humiliate and degrade herself for such a charmless douche of a guy. So by the time she regains the upper hand in a pitch-black final act orchestrated more through diabolical luck than resourcefulness, most audiences will have run out of reasons to care.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (U.S. Narrative Competition)
Production companies: In Vivo Films, Industry Standard Films, Maudit, Papermoon Films, Washington Square Films, Yellow Bear Films, in association with Salem Street Entertainment, The Third Generation, TTM Films, UNLTD Films and Bauen Holdings, Solab Pictures
Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Damien Bonnard, Esther Garrel, Lola Bessis, Jacques Nolot, Francoise Lebrun, Cindy Silver, Valerie Laury, Anjelica Huston
Director: Nathan Silver
Screenwriters: Nathan Silver, C. Mason Wells
Producers: Louise Bellicaud, Claire Charles-Gervais, Josh Mandel, C. Mason Wells, Ruben Amar, Katie Stern, Joshua Blum, Matthew Ellison, David Solal, Elsa Leeb, Jordan Goldnadel
Executive producers: Jason Dreyer, Todd Remis, David Moscow, Armin Tehrany, Valerie Tehrany, Andrew Morrison
Director of photography: Sean Price Williams
Production designer: Anna Brun
Costume designer: Camille Nogues
Music: Paul Grimstad
Editors: Hugo Lemant, John Magary
Casting: Isabelle Ungaro
Sales: Cinetic Media, Stray Dogs
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