13 April 2024

Interview: Jacqueline Lentzou on her debut film “Moon, 66 questions”

Do you ever get this nostalgic feeling of laying down and staying still on your intimate memories, somewhere between your childhood and teenagehood? Seeing the world for the first time, through the lenses of the strangest place that we call home? If yes, then this film will give you a big hug. 

Jacqueline Lentzou‘s debut feature film is an emotional journey towards our ability to understand ourselves and others, starting within our closest environment; our family. But also, as the title suggests, raises questions about connection and healing. And as the subtitle reveals, this is “a film about flow, movement, and love (and lack of them)”. Soaked in a deep, timeless summer in Athens, Greece, the story follows Artemis (Sofia Kokkali) as she returns back home to take care of her ill father, Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos). 

After a long trip around many film festivals of the world, “Moon, 66 Questions” will be released in cinemas on 24 June. It is a gem of contemporary Greek cinema, and so, we meet with Jacqueline to gain some insights into her thoughts and writing and editing process. 

You managed to create a rather sunkissed atmosphere, for a movie tied to the moon! Which fits the narration you choose: a diaristic collage, independent from the linear time (past-present-future), and connected with memories, fiction, and the perception of reality. Which could also be connected with the romantic view of the moon circle. How did you draw the timelines for your film, on your story development?

It is a very valid question. Nevertheless, even in my life, I don’t see time as it is. Of course, in order for us to connect, we need time. However, other than these scheduling issues, I don’t really see time as linear. Because I am personally like that, my brain works like that, and I exist in this way, it was very natural for me to write like that. I see time as a construct, but it wasn’t like this in my head when I built my story. So I didn’t have to work on the timelines. 

You did some collaging of VHS footage and new footage. It almost comes as natural for the cinematic language you have built for yourself, and it is quite representative of the age of self-directing. But it is mostly interesting as a sort of hybrid format. Did you make this decision based on the aesthetics or on the connection to the family history that hopefully most of us can relate to? 

It is part of my film language in a way. I really like mixing the different textures and giving another dimension to the 2D of the cinema. And I like it when this change happens. Even as a viewer, I can feel more when a film incorporates that type of change. Not at the sentimental level, of feeling more emotions, but on the filmmaking “eye” basis. I like experiencing this. So I decided to approach it like this before writing. I knew that the film would have breaking moments. That was my initial point, to have breaks in the film, like a fragmented film. This also means that even if you shift the position of some scenes, nothing really changes, because there is no plot. So, I thought that it would be nice to have this difference.

I see the film as an essay on building intimacy, unconditional intimacy, sifting roles, giving or taking up roles, and adapting to the other. Of course, you focus on the pair, father and daughter, but you also let them develop intimacy with themselves. The film has many one-shot scenes with Artemis being by herself, dancing with the car, for example. They seem like exercises on the body. So, intimacy and transformation, body in pain and body in healing. What was your idea or goal?

Healing is definitely a core part. And it’s very nice that you use this word. However, I don’t see body healing as separate from emotional healing, or separate from mental healing. Because I also see human beings as a whole. I don’t believe that we are body or mind; it’s a very intricate, detailed, dense system, the one we are lucky to have. And healing over a relationship and the healing of health are also the same. I mean, in the way that mind and body are one, but at the same time they are not one, but they are one—it’s very similar to how I saw this father and this daughter. I really like this metaphor and juxtaposition. And I think, besides healing, somehow unspoken love is also central because Artemis also hasn’t spoken love. And she also hasn’t spoken of love. And then, questions follow. What does unspoken love do, if eventually it’s being spoken? Maybe healing also is achieved.

This film obviously brings up many questions, let’s say 66. By the end it is quite clear that the characters are not really looking for answers, rather they are trying to come to terms with, to reconcile with any possible answer. It seems like a proposition to keep finding new belief systems to hold on to. We see for example Artemis playing with the medical equipment at the store, but there is also a reference to the tarot cards. What is your take? How do the characters approach the search for truth? 

You bring up a very unconscious topic. I mean, she’s not consciously looking for the truth. And she’s not currently looking for anything, as we can see. She is in a very sad, unconscious meta situation. And also, it’s a huge question—what is the truth? If there is one truth. Let’s say for the purpose of this interview that, by accident (if accidents exist), she stumbled across a part of her father’s truth. And this was enough for her to resolve for the moment her own issues with her father. So, her father’s hidden truth acted as a truth. But in the end, I don’t know how, it’s an intimate situation. It’s a very esoteric film, all the way. I know it’s not straightforward. And I like that.

Besides this part on finding ways of reconciling with any possible truth, Paris the father is exercising how to indicate his answers. When for example his behavior changes, his medical condition improves, when Jacob is around. In this sense, the film is very much emotionally oriented, with prolonged shots and gro plans on faces. I find these elements authentic cinematic poetry, besides the poetical language used in the dialogues. Can you speak a bit about your process of writing the script? How do you find the balance between verbal exchanges and imageries for your stories?

When I write, I somehow envision the scenes. I also write very close to how I edit. Which is very helpful sometimes. This works completely in the short film format. Whatever you read on the page is what you have on the image. In the feature film, it is not like this, of course. Thankfully, it was a different experience. However, everything you see was written. But as far as the overall reached balance, it was found mostly when editing, to be honest. The script in itself, had much more dialogues. But when I saw them, it was all redundant. The characters didn’t need to explain all the things that eventually were not explained. This worked better for the film. So the balance between the silent scenes, the observational scenes, and the more lyrical scenes was indeed found in the editing room. And I was editing for a long time, mostly because of the pandemic. It was very hard, to find a new premise to work. We needed more time. And imagine that, for example, there was one cut that had the minimum VHS footage, just at the beginning and at the end. Then there was another cut with much more. The changes between the cuts were very big. This was because I needed to find this balance. And after the balance, I needed to find a language system, since it’s a film that has a system. It has the tarot cards, it has the montage, it has the VHS, it has many different stuff. So the balance was eventually constructed in editing.

Let’s speak a bit longer for the script. You eliminated the distance between the father and the daughter. You not only brought them together physically but you also let them define a human bond fitting for them, beyond the relationship of father-daughter. I enjoyed this pairing, the fact that the child has not a relationship with the parents as a couple, but with the father and the mother individually. I find this as a strong point, attacking any leftovers of the traditional family model, that is very much unreal, but at the same time hardly addressed. How did you develop each of the characters? What led you to focus on this theme? What are you imagining exploring next?

I came up with this theme because I know it very well. And I like it very much, at least for the moment, since it is my first step in the industry. I prefer writing about things I know, and I think I am especially within hard family relationships. Crazy people that are portrayed as normal. Before shooting this film, as I was waiting for funds, I wrote a script that was the prequel to this one. However, ever since I finished it, I have been thinking that I am done with this topic. Of course, I have not completed it. I don’t think I have even touched upon it. The topic is huge, because actually when we talk about family, we talk about existence. And existence is life. And so yes, I don’t think I have anything for now. My next film is indeed a film about life, but it is inspired by a true, tragic event that happened in Greece some years ago. I’m very much looking forward, actually, because I haven’t been on set, on my own set, since 2019. Prior to 2019, I was shooting every year, I really breathe through my work. And I cannot wait to start shooting again.

So far you were working on short films, this is your first feature one. What is the biggest lesson you brought to the film from your previous experiences?

Unfortunately, the short film world really feels like a different life. What I brought from it to the world of shooting feature films is to not lose hope. I think this comes from filming short movies because they require just a short period of shooting. So, this made me develop the skill of not losing hope, that no matter the circumstances, the film eventually will happen. I’m a Greek filmmaker shooting in Greece. This is another adventure. In the feature film, I could have thought of it as impossible 100 times. Especially since before we started shooting, we lost a lot of money. And if I didn’t have this courage and optimism from the short film experience, I don’t think I would have done it. And the film indeed happened.

Read Our review for Moon, 66 Questions

Moon, 66 questions (Selini, 66 erotiseis)
Greece/ France, 2021
Direction/Screenplay: Jacqueline Lentzou
Production: Fenia Cossovitsa
Cinematography: Konstantinos Koukoulios
Film Editing: Smaro Papaevangelou
Art Direction: Stavros Liokalos
Music: Delphine Malaussena
Cast: Lazaros Georgakopoulos, Sofia Kokkali, Nikitas Tsakiroglou
Duration: 109 λεπτά
Distribution: Danaos Films

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