“Words don’t come easy” sings F. R. David on his 1982 Euro-hit Words, which fittingly plays over the end credits of Jacqueline Lentzou’s feature debut Moon, 66 Questions, which screened at the virtual Berlin International Film Festival yesterday. As the film opens Artemis (Sofia Kokkali) speaks freely with the stranger sitting next to her on a flight back to Athens to look after her incapacitated father Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos), but when father and daughter are reunited after years of estrangement hardly a word is spoken between the two. In fact much of the film’s tension and power comes from the unspoken, the mystery surrounding what caused the distance to form between them and their reluctance or inability (literally, initially in Paris’ case) to verbalise it. Text on screen informs us that the film we’re about to watch is about “flow, movement, and love, and the lack of them”.
With severe MS and following what appears to be a stroke resulting in a car accident, Paris has become unable to look after himself and reluctantly depends on his daughter to care for him and help him to walk again. Ironically this means that despite the psychological distance between the two, they must become physically intimate as they hold one another during his physiotherapy sessions, while Artemis has to administer shots and help him to dress and undress. As the only child of divorced parents, the sole burden rests on her shoulders, with a strained relationship with her mother and the occasional appearance by her extended family, providing the audience with some comic relief, but little in the way of assistance to Artemis. As the film progresses Artemis’ begrudging duty gradually turns to genuine care, while we get an insight into their past relationship with Artemis role playing conversations between the two, taking on both parts.
The film is punctuated by shots of various Tarot cards, and voice-over of Artemis’ journal entries as her summer in Athens progresses, juxtaposed with home video VHS footage from the late 90s offering a glimpse into Paris’ private life when he was still healthy; skillfully linking father and daughter as the two become closer. Sofia Kokkali is compelling in the central role, and as Artemis is mostly restrained and understated as she holds things together, then occasionally letting it all go. In taking on the physicality of Paris’ condition, Lazaros Georgakopoulos is hugely impressive, and despite the coldness of the man offers a glimpse of his more tender undercurrents.
Konstantinos Koukoulios’ cinematography enhances both the stifling atmosphere of Artemis’ new home life and the sense of liberation she feels when outside away from her father, dancing in the garage while washing the car in one beautiful sequence or watching her friends sunbathing and exercising in the swimming pool; the colour palette brightens and there’s a sense of relief and release in these scenes. Documentary-like handheld camerawork and long takes keep us close to Artemis and give us a sense of her interior life.
While the film might intriguingly answer fewer than the number of questions its title poses, it offers a potent meditation on familial love and relationships, the unspoken and the power of physical communication; as Artemis’ letter to her father remains unopened, sometimes a touch says far more than words. Lentzou also gives us a memorable peach scene in queer cinema, that although starkly different in tone and content, sits alongside the iconic moment in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
By James Kleinmann
Jacqueline Lentzou’s MOON, 66 QUESTIONS screened at the virtual Berlin Film Festival on March 1st 2021.