Review: Moon, 66 Questions
- BERLINALE 2021: Greek writer-director Jacqueline Lentzou makes a unique film on a tough subject through a playful approach, benefiting from Oscar-worthy performances by the two leads
Two of Greece’s rising stars, writer-director Jacqueline Lentzou and actress Sofia Kokkali have already collaborated on an acclaimed short film, the 2018 Cannes Critics’ Week prizewinner Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year. Now they are world-premiering Lentzou’s first feature, Moon, 66 Questions [+see also:
interview: Jacqueline Lentzou
film profile], in the Berlinale’s Encounters competition.
Kokkali plays Artemis, a young woman who returns to Athens to take care of her father, Paris (seasoned actor Lazaros Georgakopoulos, last seen in Free Subject [+see also:
film profile]), after he first went missing and then was mysteriously found days later, dehydrated in his car with no recollection of what had happened. The shock seems to have kickstarted multiple sclerosis, so now the former basketball player can hardly walk or even control his muscles.
Paris lives in a house that “he decided to build in the middle of nowhere”, as one of his siblings puts it. This group of people with their spouses and kids, accompanied by Paris’s mother, sits at a table on the porch like a council of elders as they interview a potential in-home nurse who doesn’t speak Greek, while Artemis, already exhausted from doing physical therapy with her dad, offers to go and buy ice cream.
Absurdly comical moments like this are rare, but underscore the playful nature of an otherwise emotionally difficult film. Artemis’s divorced mother offers no help; we even only see the back of her head, as red-haired as her daughter’s, until a crucial revelation near the end. Another person does sometimes come to visit Paris: an older man named Iakovos (Nikitas Tsakiroglou), who appears to be a friend but acts a bit off – not that Artemis or the audience can initially pin it down.
Our hero is definitely in the process of growing up, and she does not really manage to strike a balance between her still-childish spirit and the responsibility dumped on her shoulders. One moment she’s jumpingaround to “Freestyler” in the garage, and the next, she’s changing her father’s nappies, after which she collapses under the bed sheets, crying.
Her trajectory of coming of age and getting closer to her father, who barely communicates and mostly watches sports on TV, is fragmented through both the narrative and the directing approach. Lentzou juxtaposes VHS footage from the late 1990s, which we later learn Artemis found in the house, with the hero’s own diary reproduced in a voice-over. The shaky images of various places that Paris visited are counterpointed with Artemis’s words on what important things happened on that particular day in history, and her counting of lunar phases.
Lentzou uses images of four tarot cards as markers for chapters, sometimes focuses on details such as a takeaway box containing a half-eaten meal, or films through a magnifying glass, underlining Artemis’s youth. This playfulness contrasts with the almost documentary-like approach to the two main characters and their interactions, resulting in a film that manages to feel both intimate and artificial. The director additionally eschews cheap dramatics when dealing with this difficult topic by forsaking a musical score. Here, the emotion is found between the lines, rather than being thrust into audiences’ faces.
Kokkali and Georgakopoulos turn in Oscar-worthy performances. The actress gives her all to the character, and one can easily imagine that she has had similar experiences herself, especially as the picture opens with the title “A Film by Jacqueline Lentzou with Sofia Kokkali.” Her performance is both cerebral and physical, while the experienced actor used a special body-training technique that allows for non-voluntary muscle movements – and hit the role out of the park.
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