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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Stars at Noon: Review

After losing her journalism credentials, Trish spends her days idly roaming the streets of a Nicaragua community beset by poverty and government corruption. She then meets Daniel, an illusive English businessman, and the duo forms an emotionally-charged relationship. The chance encounter embroils Trish in a complex web of conspiracy and malpractice in auteur Claire Denis' latest project, Stars at Noon.

Fans of Denis' work, such as Beau travail and 2019's High Life, already know the director isn't one to bend to conformist sensibilities. In the vein of old-school noirs, Stars at Noon sees Denis and her creative team crafting a mood piece of two star-crossed lovers ensnared in a political and social vortex far beyond their reach. The results, while admittedly divisive, allured me from jump street.

Equally evocative and sumptuous, Stars at Noon transfixes through its undeniable ambiance. Denis deploys lingering tracking shots and expressively intimate framing choices as eloquent tools for placing viewers alongside Trish in her wayward journey. Few films define such an encompassing sense of place, with the deplorable conditions and vacant street corners reflecting a Nicaraguan countryside plagued by overwhelming division.

I also applaud Denis for being one of the filmmakers to infuse the coronavirus zeitgeist with genuine consideration. The lingering sense of isolation and abandonment work brilliantly to accent the film as the narrative quietly evolves into a compelling tale of subterfuge. Stars at Noon never need bullets or buckets of bloodshed to compel viewers with its intriguing espionage elements.

Denis and her screenwriting team prove to be equally adept. She and Andrew Litvack adapt Denis Johnson's 1980s-set novel with a keen eye in their modern recontextualization. Where several literature-to-film transitions feel far too dense and busy onscreen, this adaptation trims itself to the bare necessities. The lack of exposition-ladened dialogue exchanges and overly obvious metaphors allow viewers to ingest the film's worldview with impressive ease. These choices reflect pointed depictions of colonialism and corporatization in a way that never feels heavy-handed.

The stars of Stars at Noon are also enthralling. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood breakout Margaret Qualley offers one of the year's best performances to date as Trish. The actress exhibits an undeniable magnetism in her embodiment of Trish's vivacious personality and deeply-seated vulnerabilities. Co-star Joe Alwyn makes for an effective romantic lead as the enigmatic Daniel, while supporting players John C. Riley and Benny Safdie elevate their infrequent roles. Qualley and Alwyn form a remarkably lived-in bond through their blend of wordless and expressive exchanges, defining an untraditional love story between two people who remain elusive to one another.

Stars at Noon won't be for everyone. The film's glacier pacing, lack of showy moments, and subdued conclusion are elements that will likely alienate some viewers, but fans of 20th-century noirs will feel right at home here. Denis and her creative team craft a richly-textured and mesmerizing effort that is sure to find a loyal niche audience.


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