Don’t stay in Paris, kids.
Joe Swanberg went to Netflix. The Duplass brothers went to HBO. The Safdie brothers went big budget, big star, neo-noir. Alex Ross Perry tried very hard to go Disney. Nathan Silver, on his fifth feature since his own microbudget, Hou Hsiao-hsien-evoking debut, heads to Paris. It’s a curious move for the underground manners comic: his films lack the earnest sentimentality of his more well-known peers, there will be no “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” in Silver’s Paris. In a previous film, 2013’s Soft in the Head, a woman sleeps on the street after being dumped by her boyfriend. More things, one realizes, are at stake in these films than feelings, a distinction they cannily share with horror fare and Thirst Street may be Silver’s most horrific yet.
The brunt of his horror falls on Gina (Lindsay Burdge, Hannah Fidell’s A Teacher), an American who moves to the city of lights in order to stalk a one-night stand named Jerome (Damien Bonnard). A painfully-written comedy of miscommunication: Who are you? ” he asks in the morning. Gina, determined, takes up employment at the nightclub he works at, a place that Anjelica Huston’s husky and occasional narration dubs an erstwhile “authentic French cabaret” and is run by another sleazeball played by authentic Frenchman Jacques Nolot, who was once Roland Barthes’ lover in the ’80s. Gina and Jerome make a strange but fitting couple; both on the rebound—Jerome’s girlfriend left him for the international rock circuit and Gina’s husband hung himself. She will return and he, of course, will not. Which means it works until it doesn’t, a gothy procession that evokes the flinching rush of something like Kids.
The move to Paris also suitably challenges Silver’s miserablism: today’s filmmaking generation struggle mercilessly with a New York that looks nothing like the blocks of Scorsese rubble studied by the grain in film school–for what it’s worth, Silver has been earnestly praised for setting earlier films “on the sort of gritty New York streets rarely seen on screen anymore.” Silver turns Paris into a cloudy, neon bulb, a faint shadow of something else before and oozing in and out dangerously like a fever dream. Putting this to work is indie wunderkind Sean Price Williams, who most recently was seen giving that ‘70s grime touch to the big apple on the Safdies’ Good Time, a sort of tortured French Connection homage. On Thirst Street, a different visionary is selected: the pulsing tones and entrapping zooms are pure Dario Argento territory and the moody ‘70s cinephile will find an ample extravaganza of Argento and his peers’ touches.
But Silver’s sense of emotional horror is never masked in the camp of that decade’s Europeans; it is awkward, rough and real. Take this: a party scene, which Williams regularly shoots like the final scene in Rosemary’s Baby for someone like Ross Perry but becomes a social wading pool in Silver’s hands where you are not welcome, a millennial event of failed conversation. We realize that Gina has nothing else besides this passionate, stupid love, leaving us ultimately conflicted.
Silvers is a documenter of spiritual homelessness, relationships are the only flames his character have to keep their lives warm. What emerges from his latest study is a dark parable about the unbearable loneliness hiding inside modern global capitalism. Gina comes upon Silver’s world as an airplane stewardess, a profession that presented as ultimate alienation: traveling around the world, the dream of every college freshman, but finding nothing there. Ditto the whole Paris thing, ditto the whole foreign lover thing. The only Eiffel Tower we see is in a tacky hotel mural, even the ritzy boutiques of Olivier Assayas’ otherwise downbeat Personal Shopper seem part of another city entirely.
His damsel in distress bears faint kinship with the heroine of Rachel Bloom’s CW TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a program similarly littered with the pings of unrequited love. But where Bloom’s program is a celebration of economic wealth driven to the point of ennui—her character is a Harvard educated lawyer, capable of employment anywhere—Silver brackets his narrative in the cold calculus of material abandonment. In her depressed furor, Gina is fired from her job and evicted out of her apartment.
These material losses pose uncomfortable questions: what responsibilities do we owe people we don’t like? The nightclub owner is a brutal capitalist, a service industry czar whose zeal feels terrifying. Jerome, on the other hand, is trying to make do, say the little nothings he has to in order to get laid. This is revealed as its own brutality, so rarely have I ever seen someone despise another with the acumen that Bonnard brings to the role. This is uncomfortable to watch like a couple fighting across the street yet speaks to some collective insecurity hanging heavy on our own interactions.
It is also chilling, few filmmakers are capable of imagining anything worse than supernatural horror or overly conventional heartbreak and Silver ends up creating something in between those worlds. Watch with your loved ones.