26 September 2023

Stars at Noon

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Claire Denis, Rialto Distribution

Written in 1986, Denis Johnson’s novel takes place in 1984 Nicaragua, during the Sandinista revolution. The film is not a period piece. It effectively takes place in present-day Nicaragua.

The focus here is on a young American, Trish (Margaret Qualley), a freelance journalist who has gone in over her head and had her passport seized after she embarrassed the authorities. Stranded indefinitely, Trish is forced to trade sex for protection and rum money. Secretly she’s desperate, but puts on a tough and cynical front.

Then a dashing English businessman Daniel (Joe Alwyn) appears on the scene. The film hinges on the passion of the two protagonists who complement each other.

Trish thinks, at first, he could be her ticket out, but slowly realises he’s in worse trouble than she is.

Love and disenchantment in the time of COVID, this is a capricious, very nearly baleful romance; just add a modern subtlety to a visual style and themes of classic film noir.

Adapted from the novel by Denis Johnson, Stars At Noon tells his story: as a young man, he went to Nicaragua to “cover” the civil war. He wanted to become a journalist, but all his articles were rejected. Back in the United States, he decided to write this novel, employing his notes and articles.

Claire Denis (Chocolat, Beau Travail, High Life) depicts a “fortuitous encounter that becomes love, a sexual attraction that devours and blinds. And, as in the book, the violence rocking the country is seen from afar. Trish is a young American who wants only one thing: to return to the United States. Penniless, she has abandoned her journalistic aspirations. Daniel, a young English businessman, appears reassuring and sincere, but in fact navigates between lies and obfuscation.”

  • Stars at Noon is in cinemas on 1 December

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