Stars at Noon
After the screening of Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon at Cannes Film Festival, there was a moment of empty silence followed by a mixture of half-hearted applause and a spattering of annoyed booing. That reaction is a perfect summation this clunky neo-noir romance: it’s a confusing, loveless mess that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be.
As the film opens on the streets of Nicaragua, Denis’s adaptation of Denis Johnson’s novel has an air of off-kilter coolness to it. A suave bluesy beat gives the scorching setting all the flavour of a hard-boiled noir thriller. The combination shouldn’t work, but here it does, wonderfully. Adding to the strange tone is Margaret Qualley’s energetic performance as lead Trish, an American journalist stranded in the Central American country. Her lively delivery lends itself well to Denis’s offbeat dialogue (which was co-written with Andrew Litvak). The script is strange and more than a little unnatural, though Qualley’s vivacious presence makes it work, while adding a touch of comedy, too.
However, it’s when Trish meets mysterious English businessman Daniel (Joe Alwyn) that this film starts to go way off track. Whereas Qualley’s charismatic presence can pull off the clunky dialogue, Alwyn’s more straight-faced performance cannot, which only serves to underscore the unnatural and rambling nature of the text. This awkward dynamic between the pair subsequently extinguishes any passion in this erotic romance to the point it becomes laughable.
From here on, Stars at Noon only becomes more convoluted as the plot involving conspiracies, lies and corruption causes Trish to have doubts about who this new person in her life really is. What little story there is moves along at a meanderingly slow pace as Denis throws in occasional references to an upcoming election. What the political situation has to do with this very unromantic romance is hazy at best. And with its tangle of plot threads and head scratching reveals, trying to make sense of the basic narrative is made needlessly difficult. The script gives the impression that even it doesn’t know what it was trying to accomplish, as if it were being made up as it went along.
Qualley’s engrossing performance is the only shining star in Denis latest film, making Stars at Noon an almost total disappointment.
Stars at Noon does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Stars at Noon here: