Review | Stars at Noon | 2022

(L - R) Joe Alwyn, Margaret Qualley. Courtesy of A24.

Stars at Noon often has the feel of a B-side to some of Claire Denis' finer works. Her tale of two expatriates from the Imperial Core languishing in a kind of romantic ennui in a foreign country (in this case, Nicaragua) and interfering where they are neither needed nor wanted isn't exactly a new theme for Denis. It's something she's explored in greater depth in films like White Material and her masterpiece, Beau Travail

Her latest film feels like a riff in a minor key, Denis merely vibing to a familiar wavelength of favorite themes and a banger Tindersticks score. Margaret Qualley stars as Trish, an American journalist working on a story no one wants and she doesn't even understand. She wastes time wandering in and out of local cafes, insulting locals and generally being an ugly American hoping for a story. That is until she meets Daniel (Joe Alwyn), a British operative working for an oil company, whose business has caught the eye of the CIA and the Costa Rican government. Sensing a story, she takes an interest in him that soon reaches beyond journalistic pursuits, and the two find themselves embroiled in international espionage and a dangerous game of cat and mouse that's bigger than either of them could have anticipated. 

On paper, it sounds like Stars at Noon is fairly plot heavy, but Denis eschews most of the finer details in favor of a kind of languid, atmosphere heavy meandering that will either fascinate you or test your patience, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing. Few filmmakers can craft an atmosphere as indelible as Denis, and her talents are on full display here, but one can't escape the feeling that atmosphere is all the film has. Denis' anti-colonial sentiments felt better explored in her earlier work, whereas here they seem more like an afterthought, a mere conduit for the hypnotic neo-noir romance at its center. Qualley is an absolutely magnetic presence, and pairs well with Denis' sweltering atmosphere and leisurely sense of pacing. 

It never quite ties its themes up in a particularly satisfying way, but its difficult not to become entranced by the sheer beauty of this thing. Denis takes us on an erotic journey of colonial malaise, and while she never quite leads us out of it, she makes it unmistakably her own, even if she's given us far more interesting tours through these ideas several times before.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

STARS AT NOON | Directed by Claire Denis | Stars Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, John C. Reilly | Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence | Now playing in select theaters.


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