Thirst Street – VIFF 2017 Review

New York-based indie filmmaker Nathan Silver (Soft in the Head, Stinking Heaven) steps out of his comfort zone for the City of Lights in his wonderfully warped new film, Thirst Street. Initially, during the film’s pre-title preface the viewer is deftly launched into what feels like a keyed up Sirkian melodrama –– imagine, if you will, Douglas Sirk did some hardcore street drugs –– before launching what nervously relaxes into an increasingly engaging, all the while unhinging, multicolored psychodrama. Sound like a trip? Trust me, it truly is.

Narrated by a knowing and judicious Anjelica Huston, giving the film an almost storybook hurly-burly invention as it goes, and adorned with Silver’s now signature fondness for often uncomfortable close-ups, Thirst Street is an immediately compelling misadventure.

Gina (Lindsay Burdge, in an extraordinary performance) is an ill-fated American flight attendant in the throes of grief after having lost her love to suicide. Unable to cope with her immeasurable loss and on the brink of emotional collapse, Gina finds herself with a night off in Paris with her well-meaning coworkers, each determined to give her a lift and a little bit of hope, if they only can.

After bribing a crooked tarot card reader into giving Gina some assurance, the ladies soon find themselves in a seedy nightclub where she meets the mustachioed, and charming yet cheap gadfly, Jerome (Damien Bonnard). With a little booze and the bolstered confidence of the fortune teller and her friends, Gina commits to an eager one-night stand, and here a new set of troubles are born.

Burdge is sublime in the role of Gina, and as previously implied, her face can hold one hell of a close-up. Silver and his sterling cinematographer Sean Price Williams like to linger on Burdge, making much of Thirst Street unravel like a master class in cinematic portraiture, but that’s not all the maneuvers they’re interested in. Their visual roster includes a wealth of split-diopters, tiffany zooms, and surreal splashes of color.

As the imagery washes over the audience you’ll find stirring of moments Jesús Franco-like softcore, Old Hollywood schmaltz in a William Seiter vein (“…like something out of an old musical,” the narrator suggests), and the go for baroque kaleidoscopic overkill of Dario Argento and Mario Bava (the driving and propulsive score from Paul Grimstad also evokes feelings from their atmospheric horror films and thrillers). Is it too much? Maybe. Is it wonderfully explicit and overly expressive? Yes, absolutely.

As Gina becomes more and more obsessed with Jerome, who’s a total self-satisfying jerk and an indelicate womanizer by the way, she loses herself in a fluorescent frenzy of scraped-raw wretchedness. Estranged and isolated from anyone who can help her navigate the rimy waters of her neurosis –– she’s just one agitated subway meltdown away from Isabelle Adjani-level languish –– Gina’s aberrant behavior will either spell Jerome’s finish or perhaps her own.

Charged with trashy eroticism, melancholic mental agony, and deliberate discomforts, Thirst Street isn’t at all bound for conventional commercial success, but was it ever? Despite steering you down some chic and shady thoroughfares, it’s a film that will still get you to a satiating and surprising destination. Don’t miss the trip.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.