The Stars at Noon (2022) joint Grand Prix

May 28th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Claire Denis | France Drama, 138’

Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn play a pair of star crossed expats in Claire Denis’s political thriller set in Nicaragua Sandinista regime during the 1980s and updated from Denis Johnson’s novel with a pandemic twist to further its unsettling atmosphere .

Qualley is skanky journalist turned grifter, Trish, using her body rather than her writing to maintain a precarious existence when she meets the debonair aid worker Daniel DeWaan who is supposedly there on an humanitarian mission.

Claire Denis uses her considerable seasoned talent to imbue this with a highly charged erotic atmosphere that adds a sexual frisson to the sinister goings on in this central American republic. There is an undercurrent of unrest between the locals and the neighbouring Costa Ricans and although the Qualley and Alwyn’s chemistry offers combustible screen time it does not quite offer enough heft to lift this into more heavyweight territory given the dangerous times they are living in, particularly as Daniel soon turns out to be entirely unsuitable for the tricky mission he is undertaking.

In contrast Trish is a canny survivor who has the best lines when describing her contacts and these add a dry burst of humour to their rather gruelling exploits in surviving, and their bid to escape when the going gets rough. On the road to Costa Rica they run up against an abrasive CIA agent – Benny Safdie in a punchy turn.

Based on Denis Johnson’s novel ‘The Stars at Noon’, this is certainly a sensual and absorbing  experience not least for its woozy jazz score by Tindertsticks but not quite as memorable as her early films Beau Travail or Chocolat. MT

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