Sunday, February 05, 2023

Claire Denis' Stars at Noon

Stars at Noon (2022, France/Panama/USA, Claire Denis)

A hot humid Latin country in political turmoil. A sultry woman, Trish (Margaret Qualley),  doing anything for dollars so that she can escape to a more stable Latin nation. While Trish may be in the country at the wrong time but from the little we gather, some of her troubles may be her own doing. Trish wrote an article documenting the truth in Nicaragua and that landed her in hot water with those in charge. Her passport is taken away as is her ability to leave the country. In a few snippets of conversation, it becomes clear that Trish is not yet an established journalist but trying to find ways to sell her stories. However, the Nicaraguan article hampered her ability to find any more buyers for her articles, so she has to resort to do anything, including sleeping with strangers for money, in order to leave the country. As luck would have it, she encounters Daniel (Joe Alwyn) who has even more troubles circling him. The two get together, get in even more trouble, and come up with ways to get to the border so they can escape to Costa Rica.

Claire Denis and co-writers Andrew Litvack and Léa Mysius have taken the core of Denis Johnson’s novel The Stars at Noon about 1984 Nicagragua and adapted it to our current pandemic times where masks are present and proof of vaccination is required to leave the border. Like our real world, mask compliance is always not 100% and not strictly enforced. The removal of specific details works in the film’s favour because some nations are always kept in turmoil due to constant interference by other nations. Tindersticks' soundtrack, a constant in Claire Denis films, enhances the mood and elevates proceedings. The film has a lingering pace and at times the jazzy music is a few beats ahead of events or at other times keeps pace with Trish and Daniel’s adventures.

Stars at Noon was one of two Claire Denis films in 2022 along with Avec amour et acharnement (Both Sides of the Blade). In both films, the female characters encounter men who are trouble for them. In this regard, the title of an earlier Denis film Trouble Every Day could easily apply to both films.