Lazaros Georgakopoulos and Sofia Kokkali in Moon, 66 Questions
There have been few films released this year which have as much visual impact as Jacqueline Lentzou’s Moon, 66 Questions, which is about to be released in UK cinemas. Though it was made on a low budget, its distinctive style grabs viewer attention and lingers in the memory. It addresses the experiences of Artemis (Sofia Kokkali), a young woman who has been living abroad but returns to Athens when her father (Lazaros Georgakopoulos) needs care because he has become severely ill with multiple sclerosis – and yet it is nothing like the average film about illness, focusing instead on how these two very different people relate to one another. Years, even decades can go by between the emergence of directors with such a singular vision, so I was pleased to get the chance to connect with Jacqueline and discuss it.
Her style, she says, is something she developed very early in life. it feels completely natural to her. I suggest that one might describe it as impressionistic. Rather than just following a straight narrative, she show us lots of little clips and lots of separate pieces that fit together to tell a story.
“Totally.” She nods. “That’s what I'm trying to do. And it has to do with the fact that this is what coincides with my general beliefs in life. I don't see life as a linear, absolutely logical system. I think it’s much more, if you want, a collection of very different things, rather than a straightforward narrative. I don't really enjoy traditional narratives so much. I don't believe in them.”
It's interesting with this subject, because there are two main characters, and one of them has his life interrupted by getting ill and the other has her life interrupted by becoming a carer. And it seems that that fits very well with the idea of a broken story which doesn't develop inn the way people expect.
“Going back to the fragmented situation that we touched upon before. ‘Broken’ is a very important word for this film, both for the protagonist. She's broken. At the metaphorical and psychological levels, she’s devastated. The father is broken healthwise, the relationship is broken. And this is why I want to make a film that looks broken.” Pausing it at different points, she explains, creates very different images of what it’s about.
So how did she become interested in telling a story about a care relationship like this to begin with?
“Because I know, I know the story very well. Whenever I know something really well at an experiential level, then I write it and it feels very good.” She laughs.
This type of relationship is much more intimate than a lot of other kinds of human contact, and involves going into someone else's personal space all the time. And that's something that she seems to do with the camera. Was it a deliberate parallel?”
Sofia Kokkali as Artemis
“I wanted the camera sometimes to be intrusive, and I wanted the camera to feel uncomfortable for the viewer also, because – it's very interesting – in some screenings I have noticed that people will twitch and after a point they move. And I think it's because they feel uncomfortable watching something like this for so long or so closely. And maybe we're not used to seeing truth in such a raw way.”
In the story as it’s presented, everybody else in the family looks to Artemis as the natural person whose duty it is to provide care. That’s something that happens to women a lot. Nobody seems to consider that the other things she could be doing with her life could be valuable. Was this something she was commenting on intentionally?
“Well, that's a very valid point. At a conscious level, no, I didn't have this in mind, because this story was with me for ten years. So it was definitely a point after the creation of this film, after I watched it, and had all the surrounding questions, this was a thing that popped out. So for sure, because I don't know how the thing would evolve if he was a son. If it can be the family would be so pushy with a son. They don't care. They see a young woman and they don’t see her potential.”
And that seems to relate to her sense of self as well, that she isn't valued as a discrete individual. Something similar happens to her father when he can no longer support himself, so there's a merging of identities. Was she trying to achieve that visually as well as narratively?
Lazaros Georgakopoulos as the father
“Narratively, for sure – I'm not sure if it's the appropriate adverb because I don't believe in narrative.” She smiles. “I mean, the whole film, if you want, is about the healing of identity. The whole film. How he heals through seeing himself with his daughter, how she heals through seeing her father for the first time and finding his secret. So it's all about identity and healing.”
Sometimes we’re listening to one of the characters, and we're watching another one, and sometimes we hear dates and times given and different come up on the screen. Was that about overlapping the selves?
“Exactly,” she says. “Somehow we manage to connect them in the film before they are connected at the end. So you listen to her, and you watch what he was shooting when he was healthy. They have this combination and the same time, probably, individualisation in the sense that she's narrating his journey over his memories. So it's connecting and separating at the same time.
“As far as the detail about the time, I wanted to make this ‘there is no time’ statement this way, because I really believe in this. That's why I don't believe in narrative, but that’s a very long discussion. And at the same time, they're connecting, because no matter what the day, at different points in time, they had the need to have a diary, we came to common points.”
A world seen in fragments
I'm interested in what she says about time because I think that being seriously ill or being a carer like that take people out of time in certain ways, out of the flow which most people expect.
She nods. “Apart from the particular premise of pain and seclusion from all this unpleasant circumstance, what's happening here is that also she's going back to the house of the father. So there is also movement in space. I believe in space. Bt time is a bit tricky, because maybe there have been many years since she has been to that house. But the moment you enter a house and haven't been there for a long time, still, in this house, you have some crucial memories. Again, it's like you were there yesterday. So there is no time again. It’s a really sketchy thing, time.”
How did you approach finding and setting up the locations for all this?
“It’s a bit of a bitter subject,” she says, “because initially my script had many more locations – however, due to a very small budget and not a lot of time, the production couldn’t find many locations, so I had two weeks to adapt the script into one house. I think maybe again it worked out for our benefit because you feel that she should not be there at some points.”
How did she go about casting a film which is so dependent on getting the right chemistry between the actors?
Moon, 66 Questions poster
“I will surprise you by telling you that because I had my intention to have a real communication gap between them at the beginning, the protagonist, Sofia, whom I knew from work with my short films, met her father on set. They never rehearsed. They never did anything.”
But she knew that they would work together?
“I knew. I had a very good instinct, and I knew it. Because when I met them separately, you know, I was getting different elements from both. And I thought they could work together for this particular film, I don't know for other combinations. But you know, it was interesting. Initially, indeed, there was a real distance, it was not fake distance. It wasn't pretending. It was a real distance. It worked out.”
There’s one scene which I loved where Artemis is in the car in the garage below her father’s apartment, and she's trying to manoeuvre the car and she can’t get it to do what she wants. It seemed to parallel the difficulties that her father is having in his body. Was that the intention?
“It is an amazing observation. It was my intention. But I never explained this to Sofia, to the actress. I mean, there are many scenes – some are more discreet, others less discreet – that, somehow, their main purpose is to show how she's trying to get into her father's shoes. So she's trying to understand how not to be able to coordinate your body. So in this particular scene, yes, to one extent, it is exactly what you say. To another extent, I wanted to give a sense of a hamster going around in the cage, like she really doesn't know how to entertain herself anymore in the house. She cannot even go out and drive the car because she has to be there 24/7 In case something happens. So what's left for her is to wash the car, see the car, or drive, actually, to nowhere with the car, eventually grasping it, and then ending up through the grass to the revelation of the Father's secret.”
The film has garnered a lot of attention at festivals, so where does Jacqueline plan to go from here?
“What I have coming up next is my next feature film that is inspired from very bad and very true Greek events that happened many years ago,” she says. “But I want to focus on what happened before the tragic event. So it's going to be a film about life.”