Claire Denis is a major, indeed cult-level director. Her films are always challenging and often enigmatic (as well as always full of sensuality), but" Stars at Noon" (screened at the 2022 NY Film Festival) is a little too much of all that -- enigmatic is one thing, but this one is outright flummoxing. It's a film about two people who seem to meet anecdotally (but, we soon realize, maybe not so much) in, apparently, Nicaragua (within Panama standing in for it), amid a dirty war. She's American, he's a Brit, and they instantly develop a passionate attraction (she's been turning tricks, and so their first engagement is transactional, but things go on from there). They each seem to have LOTS of secrets, which complicates their relationship (and befuddles viewers) no end, especially since these seem to be to cause a lot of bad guys coming, or at least seeming to come, after both of them, or maybe just after him, for reasons that remain frustratingly unspecified.Claire Denis' ability to fill a screen with intensity is often here, but I was expecting a more textured expression of her lifelong engagement with the asymmetries of North-South interactions, so acutely deployed in films like "Chocolat" and "Beau travail". Perhaps because she's working in English (why?) and working in Central America instead of in the African settings in which she grew up, there is a disappointing lack of specificity here -- everything is generic and , surprisingly for this director, much of it verges on cliché. (And, just to make things even more frustrating, much of the dialogue, though in English, is indecipherable, especially that of Margaret Qualley, the high-intensity She in this She/He tale -- she slurs and garbles a lot of her lines, sounding almost like a non-native speaker with some slight but unidentifiable accent, though she's supposed to be an American -- something a native-speaker director might have been at greater pains to correct.)In the Q&A this evening, Mme Denis emphasized how much she admired. Denis Johnson's novel, making it clear that this project had been in gestation for a long time (longer still due to all the well-known barriers to getting anything done during pandemic times). Though Johnson was dead before the screenplay was written, he is given a screen-writer credit -- Mme Denis was a pains to point out that much of the dialogue was lifted verbatim from the novel. That may be part of the problem -- she speaks reasonably good English, but she perhaps lacks the ability to spot (as surely she would in French) how wooden some of the lines are, and how unnatural much of the speech.So, despite some trademark striking Claire Denis sequences, the applause at Alice Tully Hall was pretty perfunctory (for the film -- much more enthusiasm, deservedly, for her), and I'm guessing that, of the 1,000, more or less, people there, many, like me, left scratching their heads and wondering what that had all been about, and who was doing what (onscreen and in the opaque background) to whom, and why. Despite its Grand Prix at Cannes, this, alas, will probably not go down as a masterpiece, which, coming from her, has to be a disappointment.