Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2016 8:43 pm 
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ALEXANDER BENEV AND MONIKA NAYDENOVA IN THIRST

Forces of nature

This compelling little Bulgarian first feature takes place in an elevated rural part of the southwest, and it's so elemental people don't have names. They're just The Mother, the Father, the Son . It's a drought, but you could as much call it "Boredom" as "Thirst," but then an old codger (Vassil Mihajlov) acomes with his teenage daughter (Monika Naydenova) and they camp by the house while they dig a much needed well. This project runs the length of the action, one summer, while the boy and the girl do what boys and girls do. They argue and fight, and finally kiss. But that's not all, because this is a tale much in tune with forces of nature larger than young attractions.

The rather stern, hardworking Mother (Svetlana Yancheva) a and the Son (Alexander Benev) wash hotel sheets for a living. The intelligent, bookish Father (Ivaylo Hristov) has had two heart attacks and though he's a great fixer-upper, doesn't at present work. There are other characters, such as the Driver who brings and collects the sheets and the Shopkeeper in town. Dialogue is minimal, but Tsotsorkova brings out personalities with considerable skill and the action has a natural flow. The Son is a longhaired redhead with handsome, regular features and a certain sweetness. We see him first as a runner with a pedometer. He runs thousands of steps to please his father and insure that he will have no heart attacks. The serenity of this relationship is gone with the Girl (Naydenova), who uses divining rods to find water, then helps her father, then occupies her spare time in provoking the Son. And it works. He is troubled and fascinated by her now. The Girl though smaller than the Son is not only provocative but dauntingly tough, Naydenova's feisty personality, the strongest in the cast, contrasting nicely with the placid, calm Benev's.

Tsotsorkova may be a first timer, but she seems quite in control of this world and we sense that the forces at work will be subtle but powerful and inevitable and our job as viewers is to watch patiently as they reveal themselves. The Mother is annoyed with the diggers, their use of electricity, the drought, the mud. Various small but, in this context, important incidents fill up the seemingly quiet, uneventful time so that it seems eventful, and there is water, and then a big storm, and finally a surprise disaster that may change everything. As Jay Weissberg says in his Variety review, this finale may seem to some "a bit forced" but also provides "a necessary release from the hothouse atmosphere." Something has to pop the bubble. With these wonderfully well chosen cast members and dp Vesselin Hristov's handsome widescreen images, so well lit it almost seems black and white (with excellent use of flapping sheets, flashlights, animals, and hairpins), Thirst leaves a distinct (and pleasant) memory, and it's not surprising it's won festival prizes and nominations.

Thirst/Jajda, 90 mins., debuted 22 Sept. 2015 at San Sebasti√°n, showing also at at least ten other international festivals, with five awards and seven nominations, including (Apr. 2016) at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was screened for this review.

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