“THIRST” by Svetla Tsotsorkova (Bulgaria)

Thirst takes place on a hilltop, but it might as well take place on a deserted island or, more appropriately, in the middle of the desert, as far as the narrative is concerned. The fact that its setting is pictorial but desolate, provides a staggering and meaningful if fundamentally subtle contrast in a film so involving that in the end, there is no time to even know any of the characters’ names.

 

The fact that this is a first feature film, by director Svetla Tsotsorkova, is not an achievement in itself. Neither is the fact that it overflows with confidence, allowing us to see that the director has a complete handling of everything on the film – that should be expected from an ambitious arthouse affair that has picked up many awards in its festival run thus far. What is interesting is that the film is fundamentally carried by a rich blend of set-ups of familiar situations – the passive aggressiveness between the frustrated characters, each one lacking a certain something, mostly meaningful human warmth – in a touching way and nevertheless stripped of a cliché melodramatic touch. (I often refrain from using the word “melodramatic” way, but given the said familiarity of the film, such conventional codification would have worked against Thirst).

 

A chamber piece shot mostly shot in the outdoors, Thirst revolves around the tension, mostly unspoken in a film with restricted dialogue, between its five characters. An teenage boy and his parents, a diviner teenage girl and her well-digging father. The latter two show up to the hilltop house of the former bunch, who make a living from doing the laundry for nearby hotels, to solve their problem of an intermittent water source by claiming they will be able to source out water on their arid premises. Days go by, lengthy, hot and full of silent voids; boredom even. The void and boredom makes what remains unsaid all the more meaningful, in a film where things happen but are not talked about.

 

The characters, each with their own peculiarity, behave as fittingly as any captivating ensemble. The lyrical nature of the film (aided by the importance of “nature” in the film) welcomes a type of musical motion between them. Despite the romanticism evoked by the setting, by the theme of love and coming of age between the central teenagers, some of which recall traditionalist storytelling or better yet a romanticism of the silent era, we are kept at a distance. The cinematography’s widescreen lensing is more often than not beautiful but still, even distant. Close-ups are spare, though meaningfully present, but there is no emotive obviousness to be read in the restrained acting. This adds enigma to Thirst‘s proceedings, teasing surefire turn-outs constantly and even allowing internal speculation from the viewer that would point towards more sinister territories.

 

The casting in sublime. All players welcome the tension. Inevitably, however, the younger players, Monika Naydenova and Ivaylo Hristov are particularly impressive, perhaps because they feel like the most fresh depiction of adolescence in recent memory, coated in genuineness. Naydenova is particularly captivating. Her character is very well written, particularly in relation to her own feelings of guilt, convinced within herself that she is “evil,” those conviction inspired by the remarks by people around her.

 

This takes us back to the aforementioned theme of passive aggressiveness. There is little warmth shared between the figures in Thirst, everyday life is dreadfully serious to the point of absurdity. Tsotsorkova plays with the unwarranted inclusion of a short, oddly placed shene where the teenage boy and his mother, hanging clothes, break out into a dance to a tune playing on the radio, and it becomes possibly the happiest, most carefree moment in the film.

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