Jacqueline Lentzou’s arresting and long-awaited feature debut, “Moon, 66 Questions,” has its national premiere this week at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, after bowing earlier this year in the Berlinale’s new Encounters competition section.
The film tells the story of a young woman, Artemis (Sofia Kokkali), who decides to return to Athens after a long absence because of her father’s (Lazaros Georgakopoulos) declining health. Though she’s expected to take up the responsibility of caring for him, the fractures in their relationship quickly come to the surface. Old battles are revisited and past wounds re-emerge, until the discovery of a long-buried secret offers the two a chance to achieve a kind of catharsis.
“Moon, 66 Questions” is produced by Fenia Cossovitsa, of Blonde Audiovisual Productions, in co-production with Hédi Zardi and Fiorella Moretti of Luxbox, which is also handling world sales.
Arriving in Thessaloniki straight from the Seville European Film Festival, where “Moon” continued its busy tour of the international circuit, Lentzou tells Variety that every creative journey for her starts with a question.
“Whether I get to the answer – or to an answer – through a poem, a short film, or a feature, it’s a different story,” she says. “Here, the core question was why people cease to exist – with the rich definition of existence. What happens when the system ‘fails’? What fosters this painful process of degeneration?”
For a story she both wrote and directed, those questions led to others, each of which “enriched the film in unique ways,” she says. They also helped to shape the narrative arc that propels Artemis through her uneasy search for some form of connection, or resolution, with her ailing father. “Her journey, subtle and inner, is nothing but a truth hunt,” says Lentzou. “She wants to know why.”
“Moon, 66 Questions” is the director’s latest collaboration with the acclaimed film and stage actress Kokkali (“Little England”), who starred in Lentzou’s Locarno short film competition selection “The End of Suffering (A Proposal)” and her prize-winning Cannes Critics’ Week short “Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year.”
The director says she developed the script with Kokkali in mind, describing their partnership as “rooted in friendship” and “flowy and easy from the first time.” “Artemis’s character could not have been played by any other girl,” she adds, “and Artemis’ character’s complexity is intertwined with Sofia’s complexity in itself.”
The title and chapter headings of “Moon, 66 Questions” reference a deck of Tarot cards, and astrology is a recurring motif throughout the film, although Lentzou insists that it “has no importance per se, but only [appears] in correlation to the idea of suffering and to different ways of knowing.
“Astrology and/or other ‘prediction methods’ shine within people with a huge need to believe,” she adds. “Who needs desperately to believe? The one that truly suffers. The one that cannot accept their current reality and looks up into the sky for relief. The one that seeks momentary comfort in the illusion of knowing. Like Artemis.”
Along with its central storyline, the film offers a collage of memories and fleeting impressions, told through snippets of grainy home video footage and fragments from Artemis’ diary heard in voiceover. The interplay between the two, and the ways in which they often disrupt or contradict each other, echoes the disjunction at the heart of Artemis’ relationship with her father.
“In the diary you find incidents that you do not see in the film, and in the film, you see incidents that are never mentioned in the diary. You hear a date, yet you read another date on screen. You listen to her voice, but you watch her father’s personal footage,” says Lentzou. “Here, a magical meta-space is being created, and it is where father and daughter get connected before they consciously connect in the film.”
It’s a narrative device that speaks to an underlying truth of how we experience the world, says the director. “Our memory is fragmented, our relationships are fragmented, our sense of self is fragmented, our dreams are fragmented, our thoughts are fragmented,” she says. “If everything is fragmented, so is the path to any resolution for which we strive.”
The resolution, too, might ultimately prove to be incomplete. “One day we are certain we are over and done with a particular situation, only to discover weeks or months later emotional residue,” adds Lentzou. “We only think we reached resolution, to revisit, and re-resolve. It’s a circle of fragments, until we choose to break it and turn it into a spiral.”