On Bodies and Portents: Jacqueline Lentzou’s “Moon, 66 Questions“
“This moon is no joke, my darlings,” comes an astrological warning heard in Greek director Jacqueline Lentzou’s Moon, 66 Questions, a film loosely divided into chapters designated by tarot cards. Portents and unseen energies may be everywhere, but their mysteries are not so transparent, nor their interpretations easy. At least, not for Artemis (Lentzou’s frequent collaborator Sofia Kokkali). As the young woman struggles to navigate a family space of broken verbal communication, past secrets, and looming loss, she grasps for solace or an ordering principle to guide her amid the images that appear in fitful sleep, the ‘90s VHS footage she finds in the house, and her old diary entries, excerpts of which we hear in voiceover, complete with lunar phases and the birthdays of stars like Jackie O.
One of the first questions we hear resonates throughout every frame: “What does ‘close to you’ mean?” Artemis, who lives in Paris, has returned to Athens after a panicked phone call. She learns her father (Lazaros Georgakopoulos) went missing and was found in his car in the desert, dehydrated, with no recollection of how he got there. Now, he is struggling to come to terms with a degenerative illness, which impacts his ability to control his muscles, forcing him into an intimate physical dependence on his kin that only accentuates his stony emotional remove. It has fallen on Artemis to assist, despite the historical gulf between her and her father, until they can employ a caretaker, since her parents are divorced. Awkward interviews with potential employees, who do not speak the same language and must sit through the family discussing them in their presence, add to a sense that sympathetic bonds rarely click into place in the household.
Artemis recollects an unsettling dream in which she worried she was not human, had hooves like a deer, and saw everyone had transformed into animals. She looked down, and there was her father — a half-fish. The transient nature of our bodies, and how we navigate our surroundings with them and fill or mark the spaces between each other is of paramount concern in a film that features documentary-like physiotherapy sessions, dance, charades, ritualistic gestures, games of table tennis, and impersonation — routines to manifest mastery over the world, symbiotic exchange, and memory.
“A film about love, movement, flow (and the lack of them)” is the way the film is defined at the outset, preparing us for a contemplation of a fear and alienation that is driven not just by adolescent angst or fleeting circumstance but is existential and universal, rooted in mortality and the recognition that the skin, muscle, and bone forms we inhabit are but brief fortresses that can stop obeying our signals at any moment. From vessels of liberating or tentative expression, they morph so easily into prisons and oppressors.
Moon, 66 Questions, a highlight of the Encounters section at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, is Lentzou’s feature debut. But she is far from a new name on the festival circuit, having garnered a strong following for her shorts, which also tap into the poetry of the subconscious, and the jarring uncertainties of youth and its first brushes with mortality. In “Hiwa” (2017), for instance, a defamiliarized version of Athens is seen in a Filipino man’s vision, while in “Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year” (2018), anxieties of a moonlit New Year’s Eve occasion a desert dream.
Diegetic pop music has always been prominent in building the atmospheres of Lentzou’s work, accompanying the gamut of emotions, from dancing with abandon to crying before a car crash (in 2016’s “Fox,” we get both.) A dynamic counterpoint to her father’s declining mobility, Artemis lets loose to Bomfunk MC’s “Freestyler” in Moon, 66 Questions. Music from Greek art rock band and creative collective The Callas, frequent collaborators for whom Lentzou has shot a music video for (check out the wild, voyeuristic Hi8 narrative clip for their song “La Jalousie”), also features.
In Lentzou’s most recent short, last year’s playful yet melancholic “The End of Suffering (A Proposal),” advice is transmitted from a red-hued planet far off in the cosmos: “Your desperation level vibrates strongly, so we decided to give you some insight. Stop with the habit of trying to make sense. It gives birth to pointless thoughts.” It’s the kind of help Artemis seems to be crying out for in Moon, 66 Questions. But consolation comes, finally, in this ode to the magic of hard-won connection, from the unspoken and physical, as two bodies join in sympathetic embrace. A gesture that’s fleeting, perhaps, but lingers in our minds, full of cathartic release.
Jacqueline Lentzou’s debut feature Moon, 66 Questions screened at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival.