• Festivals

“Stars at Noon” – A Labyrinth of Lies and Conspiracies

Romantic thriller Stars at Noon, based on Denis Johnson’s 1986 novel of the same name, stars Golden Globe nominee Margaret Qualley (Maid) as Trish, a headstrong journalist who has an affair in Nicaragua with a mysterious, soft-spoken English businessman, Daniel, played by Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). While the book is set in the 80s, legendary director Claire Denis (High Life, Both Sides of the Blade) has updated the backdrop from that of the Nicaraguan revolution to the present day COVID pandemic era.

Denis co-wrote the film with Léa Mysius and Andrew Litvack. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and took home the Grand Prix. It also stars Danny Ramirez, Benny Safdie and John C. Reilly

The burden of the film’s success rests predominantly on the shoulders of Qualley. Says Denis, who was on hand at the official press conference at the Cannes Film Festival to promote the movie, “The first time I saw Margaret was here in Cannes for the Quentin Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood), and the first glimpse I had of her was this young girl hitch hiking on an LA street. [From that moment] I thought of nobody else.”

Qualley returns the compliment. “I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to work with Claire. She’s an absolute legend, the best of the best. Working with her surpassed my expectations because she has the ability to create this ambiance for you to feel free and safe. She looks at you with so much love that you feel okay to do anything,” she says. “I think she’s too humble to talk about how magical she is, and she’s really led by instinct which is pretty marvelous to watch.”

Although the story is essentially a thriller in which the two characters find themselves in a labyrinth of lies and conspiracies, nevertheless, as with any onscreen torrid affair, it was imperative that the chemistry between the two leads would be believable. Alwyn’s role was originally intended for Robert Pattinson, but Pattinson’s prior commitments to The Batman film precluded him from taking it on. However, it seemed that it all worked out for the best.  Says Alwyn, “Claire [facilitated] this amazing space where we could be together and found things out as we went. We were lucky that we knew each other a little bit so there was a bit of familiarity,” he says of his co-star.

Initially the film was to be shot in Nicaragua, but the shoot was moved to Panama. Denis explains, “We got the permission to shoot there but we realized that the president was slowly deviating from the true trajectory of the revolution, and he wanted to be re-elected against the will of the people,” she says. “So we realized we had to change country for security reasons as well as sanitary reasons because COVID had started.” She says, finally, “The importance is the meeting of the two characters. The most beautiful thing in the book is the way they fall in love, the way they speak to each other as if they needed that kind of humor to shield their feelings.”