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Stars at Noon (Cannes Film Festival Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Wild Bunch International

She gazes at the sun, the dew of morning succumbing the slums of Nicaragua. She claims to be a journalist, now seeking for an exchange of rare American dollars. We see the dawn of her entitlement, as Denis prominently shoots Qualley's expressionistic performance through tightened closeup. The viewer is forced to observe and relinquish her maximalist perspective, trapped within Trish's field of vision. We promenade through run-down motels, markets, bourgeois estates, forgotten ruins, and an abundance of tropical forestation. The locations are distinct and naturalistic; emulating a sense of cultural decay in nearly every frame. The vivid realism of Denis' espionage erotica is a visual splendour, a world told with stark shadows and contrasts. There is opposition with each step Trish takes, a threat to her vulnerability. 

She harasses the local common-wealth, her whittling White entitlement crumbling before her feet as she loses her occupation, her return to her homeland. She threatens the locals with bombings; her bratty drawl exclaiming non-sensical threats. She believes she's in command of her narrative, an American in desperation of a return home. Stuart Staples infuses light jazz to set the all-American perspective, as the cinemascope ratio callback to the great celluloid epics of the 1950s. The viewer, by cultural dissociation, dwells between the barrier of Trish's privilege and aimless motivation. On the edge of daybreak, the light glowing from a rugged cigarette and the occasional shag behave as distractions from the dangers of the growing political landscape. The seemingly improvisational nature of the film's jazz-oriented score administers the beat to Trish's wandering woe. 

She falls in love. Daniel is his name, a British businessman in troubled political waters. For Trish, his backstory is a blur; his treatment of the local Nicaraguan populace a vague footnote in her heat-stroked fantasy. Each frame between the two star-crossed lovers is infiltrated with heat. Air conditioning is a sexual commodity — sweat & skin complexions are fetishised items of interest for the two foreign nationals. Their dialogue is delirious as a result of their obsession with heat — each caucasian cretin speaks in manic tongues and stilted expressions. The boundary between language and privilege transcends into a confounding game of state vs fugitive, as the colonial couple proceed to envelop unnecessary havoc. All for what? A pitiful escape from their low-life reputation? Entitlement procures the damned, as Denis' unconventional direction is executed with profound subtext. Stars at Noon is an alienating tale on the dangers of present-day colonialism, interventionism, and appropriation.  

She acknowledges her alleged oppressor, a corporal who stripped her identification papers at the start of the film. It is only when she realises that the American identity she once held so deeply was merely an excuse to overcome the privilege behind her meaningless actions, that she is finally able to declare her irrationality. Was she ever really in love? Were the vilified power roles which surrounded the Nicaraguan community merely a figment of her entitlement? As a result of the paranoia, Denis utilises masks to demonstrate the superstitious power roles of our pandemic times. A standard medical mask is overpowered by a boastful N95 worn by Benny Safdie's CIA man.

Yet, the roles never mattered. The needle-drop ‘El Condor Pasa' signifies a return to reality. The rules of the fictitious game are now broken, where the only item of interest left is a solemn acknowledgement from Trish. She states to the corporal, with concise precision:

In many ways, you were good to me.

Still Courtesy – Wild Bunch International
Stars at Noon premiered in competition at this year's 75th .