“Thirst Street” transforms Paris from the city of love into the city of one-night stands.
A romantic thriller produced by UCLA alumnus Josh Mandel and released Sept. 20, “Thirst Street” follows American flight attendant Gina and her obsession with a burlesque nightclub bartender named Jérôme. Mandel said the filmmaking team explored themes touching on the erotic, awkward and embarrassing parts of relationships to create a film that handles dark subjects like obsession in a suspenseful yet comedic way.
“It’s such a fine line when you’re balancing between psychological thriller and comedy and farce,” Mandel said. “One false note and the whole thing collapses.”
Erotic thrillers and their exposure of the gritty, not-so-romantic aspects of European cities inspired director Nathan Silver to channel his own Parisian experiences into “Thirst Street,” Mandel said. He added Silver’s tumultuous relationships with women in Paris-inspired parts of the film, such as the one-night stand between the protagonist, Gina, and the Parisian bartender.
“(Silver) injects his own neurotic sensibilities and his own experiences into this world because life is so crazy and relationships are part of that craziness,” Mandel said. “He’s always looking to poke fun at those things people find to be challenging or depressing.”
Mandel said the film uses grimy bars and other dirty environments within European cities to portray the physical aspects of the protagonist’s turbulent relationships. He added the film includes scenes reminiscent of erotic works by 1960s filmmakers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and John Cassavetes. The erotic aspects of the thrillers manifest themselves not only in the film’s sex scenes but also in the rich colors of its cinematography, which make the audience feel like they are in a burlesque club, Mandel said.
Actors involved in the film also studied older erotic films to get a better sense of what Silver wanted to portray in “Thirst Street.”
Lindsay Burdge, who plays Gina, said Silver suggested watching films including Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon,” an erotic thriller about a man’s infatuation with another cruise passenger’s wife. Burdge took the heightened actions and emotions of the characters from “Bitter Moon” into consideration while playing Gina.
“I needed to be melodramatic and these (characters) showed me how to do that,” Burdge said. “I could push myself in places I would normally hold back to make my character more embarrassing and (as) awkward as she needed to be.”
Burdge said she portrays that awkwardness during a party scene in which Gina keeps injecting herself into other people’s business, making the audience feel uncomfortable because of secondhand embarrassment for the flight attendant.
Burdge also said she frequently had to improvise while playing Gina. Silver developed an outline for the film rather than a rigid script, which allowed for spontaneity and a more natural flow to the scenes, Burdge said.
While actors had a lot of freedom to improvise in the scenes themselves, introducing the erotic thriller genre within “Thirst Street” required more caution, said C. Mason Wells, the film’s co-writer.
“Some films can attempt to be sexy but just end up trashy with that sinister main goal of just showing skin on the screen,” he said. “There’s a fine line between an erotic (movie) and a horror movie and we wanted to find where those two overlap.”
Wells said he and Silver were able to incorporate the genre’s themes effectively by avoiding excessive sexual scenes that were not crucial to the storyline. In some male-directed erotic thrillers, female protagonists are not given the respect they need to make them interesting to an audience, he said.
“We worked together to make sure to give both the main characters, Gina and Jérôme, a level of respect and room to make sure the film did not fall into the category of the creepy and gross erotic films produced earlier,” he said.
The filmmakers also avoided oversexualizing the film by giving each of the main characters their own emotional complexities and leaving the audience unsure of who to empathize with, Wells said. Although the main characters stalk and alienate one another, they do so in search of love and belonging, making their actions more pardonable to audience members, he said.
At the end of the film, the characters’ fates remain uncertain, which leaves the audience uncomfortable and unnerved. Evoking feelings of discomfort was one of the goals of the film, Wells said.
“In horror movies you can be shocked but that doesn’t stay with you outside of the theater, unlike feelings that leave you uncomfortable and thinking,” he said. “You want to make a movie that scars but doesn’t bruise, and I think ‘Thirst Street’ does just that.”