Stars at Noon

Stars at Noon

2022, R, 135 min. Directed by Claire Denis. Starring Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, Nick Romano, Danny Ramirez, Monica Bartholomew, Stephan Proaño.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Oct. 14, 2022

An ill-fated love affair blooms amid murky espionage plots in Stars at Noon, the second film this year (after Both Sides of the Blade) from Claire Denis, taken from the 1986 novel by Denis Johnson (mind the elocution there). Both stories are set in Nicaragua amid oppressive government rule, and while Denis’ film plays out in a contemporary time frame, the fact that nothing has changed much in almost 40 years is all you need to know about the state of geopolitics in Central America. Except now there’s also COVID, another element that Trish (Qualley) has to deal with as she maneuvers to escape the country. An American journalist whose damning dispatches of kidnapping and murder among the current (eternal?) regime have put her on the persona non grata list, she has turned to prostitution in order to secure funds and perhaps an exit strategy. When one of her clients, a junior military lieutenant (Romano), attempts to take back her documents, as they may incriminate him, she knows her time is almost up.

A rendezvous with Daniel (Alwyn), an English oil company agent, at a hotel bar seems promising. After a few transactional tumbles, Daniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Trish. At least that’s the only way to explain his utter ineptitude with regard to his day job, as Trish has to repeatedly point out potentially deadly hazards that he seems to have not even considered. As a competing power vying for control of exploitable resources in an unstable country, Daniel has the operative skills of a lost toddler. It’s apparent Denis has little interest in that aspect of the film, her focus honed on two lovers passionately entwined while malevolent forces inexorably surround them. If you are tuned to the director’s wavelength – her dappled images married to a rhythmic editing style forming a dreamy, disconnected world – then Stars at Noon has many pleasures. An empty dance hall becomes a hidden oasis. The rainswept city streets overflowing with graffiti and half-torn leaflets are poignant tableaux of melancholy, the jazz-infused soundtrack by Denis’ house band, Tindersticks, unifying each moment. But as evocative and intoxicating as these elements are, they never quite fit into a cohesive whole, as Trish and Daniel tryst their way to the Costa Rican border. Nevertheless, minor Claire Denis is still Claire Denis; just leave the John le Carré paperback at home.

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Both Sides of the Blade
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Stars at Noon, Claire Denis, Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, Nick Romano, Danny Ramirez, Monica Bartholomew, Stephan Proaño

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