Thirst Street

| November 29, 2017

The box office success of the Fifty Shades of Grey films has thus far failed to inspire a return of Hollywood softcore popularized in the 80s and 90s with Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Aside from a few stray examples of studios dipping their toes into those waters–of which only Unforgettable hit theaters with an “R” rating, and it was hardly a hit–Hollywood has remained skittish about sex on the big screen. While late-night cable softcore still exists, it resembles product coming off of an assembly line in the films’ rigid adherence to formula and rotating cast of a handful of adult actors and familiar locations. The heyday of European softcore kicked off in the 1970s with Just Jaeckin’s massively popular Emmanuelle (1974) is a distant memory for most filmgoers if they remember it at all. But Nathan Silver’s Thirst Street proves that even if softcore may not be quite ready to return to the mainstream yet, its history can provide inspiration for adventurous filmmakers looking to strike out into long-neglected cinematic terrain.

Gina (Lindsay Burdge) is an American flight attendant who returns home one day to find her long-term boyfriend has hanged himself. Severely traumatized and in serious shock, Gina almost immediately returns to work in hopes of avoiding having to face the emotional aftermath of his suicide. While on a layover in Paris, a pair of her fellow flight attendants (and her only friends) manage to get Gina out of her hotel room and out on the town. Gina meets bartender Jérôme (Damien Bonnard) at a former cabaret that has become a lurid strip joint since the women’s tourist guide was published, and after a passionate one-night stand Gina is anxious to return to Paris and Jérôme. She soon impulsively decides to move to the city in order to continue their relationship, which is very obviously one-sided: Jérôme is a lothario picking up women while he waits for his rock singer girlfriend Clémence (Esther Garrel) to return from touring. When she does come back, Gina becomes increasingly desperate for Jérôme’s attention and willing to do almost anything to get it.

Thirst Street mimics the look of 70s and 80s Euro-softcore films with its neon-lit underground clubs and soft focus. A particularly memorable dance routine set to Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman” would not have been out of place in, say, Gérard Kikoïne’s Love Circles: A woman in a partial cowboy costume dances while bored men watch from the darkness and blow smoke into the neon light that barely illuminates the space around the stage. Anyone for whom names like Brigitte Lahaie, Fiona Richmond, Laura Gemser, and Glory Annen mean anything will find themselves in comfortably familiar territory. However, while director/co-writer Silver clearly took inspiration for the look and feel of Thirst Street from those films, he employs these approaches in the service of a much different type of story. A narration (provided by Anjelica Huston) both contributes to the “classy” posturing of some softcore films and provides a direct glimpse of Gina’s delusions.

Burdge gives a typically excellent performance as Gina, making the character simultaneously sympathetic and unsettling. It is established at the beginning that Gina sees her relationship with her soon-to-be-dead boyfriend as a classical Hollywood romance, but Silver and co-writer C. Mason Wells ground Gina’s life in mundane details. She’s jetting off to Paris to have marathon sex sessions with a man she barely knows, but she still has to pick up Plan B from the local pharmacy when he refuses to use a condom. She also contracts pink eye from Jérôme, which is both comically prosaic and tragic when she reads his casual offer to let her use the rest of the medication he was taking for it as a sign of devotion. As the film progresses, those ubiquitous neon lights start to feel less romantic and more like something out of an Argento film. Thirst Street is a fascinating, effective melding of different strains of European exploitation films with a very dark core of unaddressed grief and obsession, but it also has moments of surprising humor. While major studios continue to avoid frank sexuality and Hollywood softcore may never make a return to the big screen, this compelling and unique psychodrama clearly shows that there is still much to be mined from softcore’s traditionally “disreputable” history.

Samuel Goldwyn Films releases Thirst Street in select theaters on 1 December 2017, followed by VOD release on December 12.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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