Stars at Noon: Claire Denis

Stars at Noon

Claire Denis, 2022, France, 137m

English and Spanish with English subtitles

North American Premiere

A dissolute young American journalist (Margaret Qualley) and an English businessman (Joe Alwyn) with ties to the oil industry meet by chance while on different, mysterious assignments in modern-day Nicaragua. The two tumble into a whirlwind romance despite knowing little about each other’s true professional identities—all while abstract forces close in on them as they desperately try to book it out of a country that won’t seem to let them leave. Stars at Noon, based on the 1986 novel by Denis Johnson, represents a new mode for director Claire Denis, a contemporary thriller suffused with political intrigue and languid eroticism, moving entirely to the tactile rhythms of its actors, especially rising star Qualley, who gives a live-wire performance of fervid spontaneity and mercurial passion. Winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. An A24 release.

 

Stonewalling

Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka, Japan, 148m

Hunanese with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

For more than a decade, Beijing-based wife-and-husband team Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka have been making films about the lives of young people in China—in many cases “left-behind children,” or those whose parents are forced to leave their families to find jobs in cities. Expanding their project, their gripping, humane yet uncompromising latest, shot with a precise formal economy by Otsuka (who also serves as cinematographer), focuses on a year in the life of Lynn, a flight-attendant-in-training whose plans to finish college are thrown into doubt when she discovers she’s pregnant. Not wanting an abortion (a decision she hides from her callow, absent boyfriend, away on modeling and party-hosting gigs), she hopes to give the child away after carrying it to term, while staying afloat amidst a series of dead-end jobs. As incarnated by the filmmakers’ quietly potent recurring star Yao Honggui, Lynn—whose story continues after being the center of the filmmakers’ acclaimed The Foolish Bird (2007)—is both a fully rounded character and the vessel for an urgent critique of a modern-day social structure that has few options for women in need of care.

 

TÁR

Todd Field, 2022, U.S., 157m

The charisma and emotional precision of Cate Blanchett are put to astounding use in this deft showcase for the actor’s nearly musical artistry, a stinging portrait of a world-famous orchestra conductor’s gradual unraveling that is the first film in sixteen years from director Todd Field (In the Bedroom, Little Children). A Focus Features release.

 

Trenque Lauquen

Laura Citarella, 2022, Argentina, 250m (presented in two parts)

Spanish with English subtitles

North American Premiere

In her dazzling and enormously pleasurable new opus, Laura Citarella takes the viewer on a limitless, mercurial journey through stories nested within stories set in and around the Argentinean city of Trenque Lauquen (“Round Lake”) and centered on the strange disappearance of a local academic named Laura (Laura Paredes). Through initial inquiries by two colleagues—older boyfriend Rafael and a driver named Ezequiel with whom she had grown secretly close—we learn about her recent discoveries, including a new, unclassified species of flower and a series of old love letters hidden at the local library, which may help them track her down. Yet as flashbacks and anecdotes pile up, we—and the film’s intrepid investigators—begin to realize that this intricately structured tale is larger and stranger than we could have imagined. Citarella, a producer of the equally remarkable shape-shifting epic La Flor, has confidently crafted a series of interlocked romantic, biological, and ecological mysteries that create parallels between past lives and present dangers, invoke the rapture of obsessive pursuit, and salute the human need to find personal freedom and happiness. Trenque Lauquen is told in 12 chapters spread across two feature films.

 

Triangle of Sadness

Ruben Östlund, 2022, Sweden/France/UK/Turkey/Germany, 147m

Cinematic mischief maker Ruben Östlund liberally applies his customary playfulness to the wide canvas of his wildly ambitious, frequently hilarious latest film, which won the Swedish director his second Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Kicking off as a satirical romance, following the bickering, money-soured relationship between two hot young models (Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean), the three-part film escalates into increasing absurdity after they are invited on a luxury cruise, where they rub elbows with the super-rich, as well as a disheveled and disillusioned, Marx-spouting sea captain (Woody Harrelson). To tell more would ruin the Buñuelian twists of this poison-dipped farce on class and economic disparity, which doesn’t skewer contemporary culture so much as dunk it in raw sewage. A NEON release.

 

Unrest

Cyril Schäublin, 2022, Switzerland, 93m

Swiss German, Russian and French with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

A film of immense delicacy and precision, Cyril Schäublin’s complexly woven timepiece is set in the hushed environs of the Swiss watchmaking town of Saint-Imier in the 1870s. In this unlikely place, a youthful Pyotr Kropotkin, who would become a noted anarchist and socialist philosopher, experiences a quiet revolution, finding himself inspired by the buzzing activity of the town’s denizens, from the photographers and cartographers surveying its people and land; to the growing anarchist collective at the local watermill, raising funds for strikes abroad; to the organizing workers at the watch factory, whose craft is depicted with exacting detail and devotion. Schäublin’s abstracted, geometric visual approach reinforces the singularly contemplative nature of his project: this is a film about time—its tyranny as well as its comforts—and how it relates to work, leisure, and the larger processes that shape history. A KimStim release.

 

Walk Up

Hong Sangsoo, 2022, South Korea, 97m

Korean with English subtitles

U.S. Premiere

Hong Sangsoo uses a delicately radical structure in his latest exploration of the complexities of relationships, growing older, and artistic pursuit. Successful middle-aged filmmaker Byungsoo (Kwon Haehyo) drops by to visit and introduce his daughter to an old friend, Mrs. Kim (Lee Hyeyoung), the owner of a charming apartment building that houses a restaurant on the ground floor. After Mrs. Kim tries to persuade him to move into one of the walk-up units, the film and Byungsoo’s future take a series of unexpected turns, as the various floors of the apartment come to contain different stages of his romantic and professional lives—or perhaps they’re different realities? Hong’s playfully existential drama consistently surprises, asking provocative, unresolvable questions about desire, illusion, and satisfaction and what we need—and take—from one another as we seek our own answers. A Cinema Guild release.