Zürich-born writer, director and burgeoning auteur Jan Gassmann (“Chrigu,” “Europe, She Loves”) will bring his newest film, “99 Moons,” to the ACID sidebar at Cannes, and with it a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of lovers in head-on collision. Produced by Reto Schaerli and Lukas Hobi at Zodiac Pictures in co-production with Swiss public broadcaster SRF, the film follows Bigna, a 28-year-old disaster prevention scientist and her chance encounter turned love affair with Frank, a 33-year-old DJ. The film, which has been acquired by Berlin-based sales outfit M-Appeal, has already sold its German rights to Alamode Films.
Newcomers Valentina Di Pace and Dominik Fellmann star in the picture, and their on-screen chemistry is center stage. The film takes place over 99 months, or “moons,” and focuses on the ever-evolving relationship between Bigna and Frank as they navigate their own attraction. Battling the past for a chance at their future, both lovers engage in emotional and sexual warfare, then must learn to live with the casualties.
Variety spoke with Gassmann the film’s premiere at Cannes.
I guess for starters, can you talk about the birth of ’99 Moons’? How did it come to be?
I had just had a huge breakup and I wrote a short story, which stayed with me for a few years and I never had the courage to make a movie out of it. And when I met my producers Reto and Lukas, we were talking about another project but suddenly I remembered this short story. I showed them the text and they were interested, but then it took another six or seven years to write it.
It’s been a very long process of writing and also kind of a growing up process for me personally. I was not the same person anymore who fell in love at twenty-five. In that sense, the story kind of grew with me, or became more adult. I realized at some point that what really hurts in the long run is that you will always love this person. And it’s not just the breakup itself, which in the moment clearly hurts. You understand that it will stay with you and you understand this is the one love you will probably never forget, even though you can be in love again.
The film is broken up into chapters, and time passes in jumps, with each jump labeled by a certain number of “moons.” What was your intent using this narrative device?
Those six fragments are like memories and very subjective. Everything in between, the moons that pass when they don’t see each other – have no importance to me, because Frank and Bigna are separated. It’s the story of their love, not of their life. I always thought about their love as an addiction, they are high on each other and then go cold turkey, hoping not to meet again…
It was very interesting to fill the gaps with the actors, to invent a life that the viewer will never see on screen, to create characters who live through the time of “99 Moons.” I also love the way this concept creates rough breaks. I was able to cut out in the middle of an important scene and step back into their life much later. That’s how memory feels to me, sometimes.
In the film, Bigna works in disaster prediction. Can you talk about the importance of that backdrop which persists through the chapters of the film?
Bigna is always trying to be in control: in her sex life as well as in her work life, but she also has this need to put herself in danger. This is something that connects my two protagonists, this poetic death wish, which Bataille describes like this: “Eroticism, it may be said, is assenting to life up to the point of death.” That’s what their love is: The beauty of destruction, the beauty of a natural disaster, while being aware of all the casualties.
When I came up with her job it felt important to me to really research her field. I managed to talk with a professor, who is doing disaster prevention and passed some of his knowledge to the actress. For Valentina it was a great help to understand the thinking pattern of her character. I obviously like the metaphor and I like that we treat the earthquakes in a realistic way. To me it’s also a reference to inner earthquakes, how we experience love.
Sex is center stage in “99 Moons,” as an important part of the story. How did you approach creating intimacy and reality in these scenes?
We never tried to hide it: The script was explicit, so everyone knew what we wanted to do. One of the reasons it worked out was certainly the casting process of almost two years. Being okay with your body in front of a camera is something that as a director, you can’t give to someone. You can work on it, but it’s something the actors need to bring on set. Valentina and Dominik, both non-professional actors, were able to do that. Also, we decided from the beginning that we wanted to work with an intimacy co-ordinator. For an action film you have a stunt co-ordinator, for our film we wanted an IC to make sure no one gets hurt psychologically. With Conny we talked and rehearsed a lot and choreographed those scenes in a precise way. Because of the detailed preparation, there was a lot of confidence on the set, the actors felt free to live in front of the camera and we were able to shoot these scenes in long continuous takes.