Review: 'Thirst Street', French Romantic Comedy Gets A Twisted Spin

Maybe I'm in the minority, but when I think of crazy stalker movies I think of a film like Amélie . Yeah, the "cute" one with Audrey Tautou. There's nothing cute about it. She's crazy, right? Always meddling in the lives of others, until she becomes maniacally obsessed with that one guy? No thank you. Dress it up in pretty colors and '70s French sensibilities all you want, that chick is nuts. Thirst Street, the wry and twisted psycho rom-com from director Nathan Silver, clearly sees things the way I do, showing the dark side buried beneath the storybook fantasy.

Combining the heightened, whimsical stylings of European erotica with clever humor and a dash of Single White Female hysterics, Thirst Street is at first tough to get a handle on tonally. The film begins, like so many of those starry-eyed romances do, with a flight of fancy. Grieving and lonely flight attendant Gina (Lindsay Burdge) gets a tarot reading one day, promising that she will meet a very specific man and they will quickly fall in love. Increasingly detached and nomadic from depression and her career, Gina takes way too seriously a one-night stand she had with bartender Jerome (Damien Bonnard), while on layover in Paris. Well, it was a one-night-stand for him, anyway. For Gina, it was LOVE. We're not just talking about too many phone calls asking about your day. Gina quits her job and moves to Paris. Right across the street from Jerome's apartment. And then she gets another job. At the same place Jerome works.

At first her presence is a mildly pleasant surprise. Hey more hookups, and at least one really clumsy blowjob.  Until he finds out just how deep her commitment really runs, then things aren't so cheery. It doesn't help that his ex-girlfriend Clemence (Esther Garrel), a successful rock star back from touring, has re-entered his life. Gina quickly becomes a nuisance to them both.

Adding to the film's sardonic flavor is the perfect voice casting of Angelica Huston, who narrates Gina's descent into madness with a dry, murderous wit. She becomes more brutal, and thus funnier, as Gina begins to unravel. It starts with a jealous glance at Clemence, but grows until she has wormed her way into every aspect of Jerome's life. But it's more than just his dismissals of her that drive Gina over the edge. Thirst Street is also a comedy of clashing cultures, in which Gina's awkwardness with French customs leads to minor daily humiliations. She can't even do the kissing on both cheeks thing right. Her every attempt to fit in is as awkward and uncomfortable to watch as her unrequited passions.

It's not always easy to tell who Silver thinks our sympathy should lie, if with anybody at all. The source of Gina's obsession isn't made as clear as it could, which runs the risk of making her look like a cookie-cutter nutjob. However, it's in Burdge's performance that we kind of root for Gina, even though she is clearly insane, and dangerously so. Through her we come to feel Gina's growing desperation and isolation, without the character ever becoming sad or pathetic. The rest of the cast do a good job in mostly reactionary roles, with special credit to Bonnard for making Jerome someone we could relate to. It would've been easy to paint Jerome as a bad guy for not returning Gina's feelings, but he comes across as a guy looking for many of the same things she is...just in a more rational way.

Visually arresting with vibrant, expressive colors and a surreal atmosphere, Thirst Street resembles those French Emmanuelle skin flicks you weren't supposed to watch on Cinemax as kid. Masterful cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Queen of Earth) never lets the film slip too far into its dream-like haze, mixing in enough of a darker palette so that the nightmare is always close at hand. He helps keep every scene in Thirst Street just slightly askew, much like its tragic heroine.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5