VIFF 2022: Stars at Noon

Directed by: Claire Denis
Distributed by: A24

Written by Michael Clawson

In “Stars at Noon,” the more ambitious and divisive of Claire Denis’ two movies this year, Margaret Qualley gives a livewire performance as Trish, a booze-addled American journalist desperately looking for a way out of Nicaragua. She’s strapped for money and essential travel papers when she meets Daniel, played by Joe Alwyn, whose vague motivations as a consultant for an oil company lightly shroud him in mystery. What Trish might have thought would be a one-night-stand after she seduces Daniel at a bar is instead the beginning of a passionate love affair and a messy attempted escape from the country for the two of them together.

Stagnation pervades the South American setting, and not just because it’s evident that political turmoil and the COVID pandemic have driven the Nicaraguan economy to a halt. The sweltering humidity that leaves Trish’s hair big and frizzy is a suffocating force that only makes Trish and Daniel seem that much more stuck in place. With its “Westerners in a foreign land” premise, noirish overtones, and steamy but raw sexuality, “Stars at Noon” plays like a cross between “White Material” and Lawrence Kasdan’s “Body Heat.”

While Denis is no stranger to genre, what’s surprising is just how hard the script for “Stars at Noon” leans into hard-boiled dialogue and the archetypes that Trish and Daniel are modeled after. Contrivance, usually not something that plagues Denis’ work, is a constant as the film struggles to build chemistry between its reckless young lovers. It’s impossible to dismiss the movie, however; not with how tantalizing Denis’ craft can be. The richness of the film’s mood is sometimes enough to drown out the thuds that the script delivers.

“Stars at Noon” Trailer

“Stars at Noon” screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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