Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2022 1:59 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 4614
Location: California/NYC


Two Anglos in lust and in danger in central America

Issuing a second film in one year, Claire Denis has made a movie in English, with quite a bit of Spanish, appropriately enough since it's set in an updated version of of the uneasy, dangerous Nicaragua of the 1980's in the eponymous Denis Johnson novel. The updating seems to have drained much of the political logic from the story, adding real-life scenes related to the COVID pandemic in a steamy, rain-drenched Panama where this was shot starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn as two drifters turning into fugitive, alcoholic lovers, and Benny Safdie, who interprets a CIA agent as a kind of insidious buffoon.

Under the circumstances, though at Cannes, where this was Denis' only second time being selected afteer her debut Chocolat it did win the Grand Prix, many Anglophone critics have panned the film (Metascore 64) because the erotic political thriller is mostly not really there, only the erotic part and the sense of danger and malaise without much interest in a plot. But they're missing out how wonderful the atmosphere is, the sense of hopelessness and danger two unexpected lovers seek to escape from with drink and sex. Only Denis could do this with such sensuous ooze. I liked the spiky, nutty go-for-broke performance of Qualley and was taken by the classy, glamorous English blond good looks of Alwyn, whom I'd liked in another movie the critics liked even less, Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (NYFF 2016). Alwyn has so much glamour and sexiness he does't have to do much. Robert Pattinson was the first choice and he would have made the character more appealing: but is that desirable? It's essential that this man is somewhat dicey and out of reach.

Denis seems to be thinking of a country that's being taken over by a dictatorial regime like the one in her White Material (NYFF 2009): elections are being postponed for the second time, and armed guards of several different kinds are everywhere. Costa Rican heavies have also infiltrated. Trish (Qualley) knows more about these and also is fairly fluent in Spanish, which Daniel (Alwyn) doesn't and isn't, so she has more insider knowledge than he, when they come together. But she has been discredited and worn out her welcome by doing articles about bribery and kidnapping in the country. She Skypes a magazine editor (John C. Riley in another misjudged, tonally jarring American cameo) begging for work and he tells her she's no journalist and to fuck off. Qualley's skinniness and extreme youthfulness make it easy to accept that her journalistic knowhow hasn't gone very far despite her knowing her way around.

Trish is living a desperate, wild life, sleeping with men for $50, cash, US, regularly with a subteniente (Nick Romano) and a Vice Minister of Tourism (Stephan Proaño), and she meets Daniel, who claims to work for an energy company, in the bar of the posh hotel he's staying in, the kind of place where she steals shampoo and toilet paper to take back to her sleazy dive room. He wants to see her again and she likes him much better than her regulars, as well she might: she notes his skin is "so white it’s like fucking a cloud" (you had to be there). Before that she has seen him with a slick looking guy (Danny Ramirez) he claims is something legitimate and she warns him is a Costa Rican cop. Does he really not know he's in danger?

What counts here is the rain, the hotel rooms, the sense of being, as Trish now is, both an insider-foreigner and persona non grata, with too many córdobas and never enough American dollars, no phone and her passport in the hands of the subteniente . Both now feel a desperate need to escape the country while the means to do so are slipping ever further out of reach. Daniel and Trish are drawn to each other, she is a lush and he drinks along with her, though going more for beer while she's guzzling rum, the sex is good and the danger seems to turn them on. The signal image is of a taxi driver Daniel has given his burned cell phone to murdered at the wheel of his cab with the phone in his mouth. The ending is chilly and ironic. I was reminded of Robert Stone. If this is one of Claire Denis' bad movies, it may be the one I like best.

Stars at Noon, 135 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes in May 2022 winning the Grand Prix, showing also at Sydney, Melbourne, Deauville, New York and Vienna. US limited release Oct. 14, 2022. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Opening in France in May 2023, where they will probably dig the sensuality more. Metacritic rating: 64%.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 17 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group