Nicaragua, modern day: An American journalist meets an English businessman in a bar. Except she’s not really a journalist, and he’s not really a businessman. She offers sex for money, and he complies. She falls for him and continues sleeping with him, first for money, then for reasons hard to understand—even when the Nicaraguan police and a CIA agent so obvious he might as well be wearing a sign tells her not to.

So it goes in Stars at Noon, the latest from French auteur Claire Denis. Denis has made some of the most sumptuous and intoxicating movies I’ve ever seen. She’s also made this, a movie that moves so sluggishly I’m shocked it went anywhere in two hours’ time.

Denis adapts Denis Johnsons’ 1986 novel of the same name, which was set during the 1984 Nicaraguan Revolution. Denis moves the events to the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and gains little in the proceedings other than the two main characters, Trish (Margaret Qualley) and Daniel (Joe Alwyn), are the only ones who don’t wear facial coverings. Come to think of it; I don’t think our trusty CIA man (Benny Safdie) does either. I’m not sure if this is a case where the filmmakers didn’t want to cover up those movie star faces or a commentary on entitled travelers in a depressed country.

It doesn’t really matter: what little goes on in Stars at Noon barely adds up to anything. The editing is neither analytical nor constructive, and close-ups and cutaways seemed thrown together higgledy-piggledy. In one scene, two locals are transporting Trish and Daniel across a border when another two men with assault rifles emerge from the trees and open fire. Daniel is winged, and the two guides are killed. Daniel and Trish leave the raft and head for shore, running right past the two gunmen with such little concern you think they work for Daniel. But then the two gunmen run up to the slain guides, check their pockets for money, and escape in frustration when they find nothing. On to the next scene.

Stars at Noon slips by with this level of disjunction from beginning to end. Trish and Daniel spend an awful lot of the movie having sex and drinking, but what for? Neither seems to be having a good time. Neither seems to be out to destroy themselves. They’re just drinking and banging, drinking and banging. If Daniel is the front man for some bad actors—like many others keep telling Trish—then he seems pretty uninterested in punching a clock. Maybe that’s what Trish, a journalist without credentials who never spends any time writing, sees in Daniel. I once had a boss who told me that all this work was really cutting into his drinking. Maybe he would like this movie.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Stars at Noon (2022)
Directed by Claire Denis
Screenplay by Claire Denis, Andrew Litvack, Léa Mysius
Based on the novel by Denis Johnson
Produced by Olivier Delbosc
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, Danny Ramirez, Nick Romano 
A24, Rated R, Running time 135 minutes, Opens Oct. 14, 2022.