In 2012, Jacqueline Lentzou picked up her cousin’s phone in Athens, Greece. She remembers the date exactly: June 19. Lentzou was 20 and studying to be a director at the London Film School. “My cousin said to me, ‘Your father is in the hospital. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t walk. You must come back.’ He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
For the next 18 months, she became her father’s carer. At the time, it seemed like her career as a director was over before it really took off: “The only thing that kept me from believing that it was all over was the fact that I was going to make a movie. I knew since 2012 that it would be my first feature film. I had to do it to move forward in my life.
A decade later, this feature was realized. His name is Moon, 66 Questions and he is as fierce, intense and thoughtful as Lentzou, speaking in a video call from his home in Athens. Since the film’s premiere in Berlin last year, she hasn’t spoken publicly about her autobiographical debut – until now. She feared that her life story would be a distraction. “I don’t hide it, but at the same time I’m not too open. Only because I would never, ever want the real event of the film” – she puts “real event” in invisible quotes – “to distract from the film itself”. Besides, she adds: “The real story is much harder.”
Moon, 66 Questions is squarely in the arthouse tradition, unconventional and devoid of any sense of challenge (although it is very emotional at the end). Sofia Kokkali plays Artemis, who returns home to Athens after her father is hospitalized. As the only child of divorced parents, her extended family – wealthy, conservative, observant – expects her to care for her father, even though she has barely spoken to him in years. Artemis spends most of the film seething with resentment and anger.
Is gender a factor? In her own life, would Lentzou have been asked to drop everything if she had been a son? She shakes her head. “No,” she replies with a thin, ironic smile. “If I was a boy, they would just call me to go visit and then they would send me to work.”
Lentzou wanted to show what it is like to live in a male-dominated Greece; expectations placed on women and ‘toxic’ homophobia. His screenplay features a gay character who has lived in the closet for many years. “My film speaks deeply and above all about patriarchy, and about this suppression that people have to undergo and deny their own soul. It is the heart of the film. It wouldn’t exist if the patriarchy didn’t exist.
She speaks a week after the high-profile conviction of two men for the murder of Zak Kostopoulos, a 33-year-old LGBTQ+ activist in Athens. Witnesses described the attack as akin to a lynching. Four police officers, also accused of causing fatal bodily harm, walked free. Lentzou looks furious; for the first time, she is at a loss for words. “They kicked him to death in downtown Athens at four o’clock in the afternoon. I get goosebumps telling you this story. Imagine, this is Athens, the capital. I don’t want to know what is happening in the other small towns of Greece.
In the film, she pulls no punches with her honest portrayal of a grown child caring for a parent. The camera continues to roll for the moments a Hollywood movie would cut: Artemis’ excruciating embarrassment at seeing her dad in the bath for the first time or changing her incontinence pants.
What happens when you take care of a sick parent is that you go from carer to daughter, Lentzou explains. “It’s a double agent role. Artemis couldn’t take her to the bathroom believing she’s the girl. So she’s not the girl, she’s just there to help him. Then she resumes the role of daughter. I think it’s impossible to change your dad’s diapers knowing he’s your dad. It’s a bit too much for some. “There are people who are shocked, for sure, because they find the film to be very hard, it’s very in the mouth.”
Nor does Lentzou spoon-feed his audience. We never find out about Artemis – where she lives, what she does for work. But in Kokkali’s brilliant performance, in the little glimpses she gives of Artemis’ goofy coolness, playfulness and hint of a buzzing inner life, we get a picture of who she is. This restraint has caused some headaches in Greece, says Lentzou: “Some people are bored, which I totally understand. It was one of my biggest risks, making a film that was potentially difficult to watch. But, as a viewer, I like to watch something that challenges me.
At this point, our interview is interrupted by his dog barking from the hallway. “She never barks,” Lentzou said as he headed for the door to let in a shaggy ball of fur that leaped into his lap. “Our interview has become too personal now,” she laughs.
Lentzou grew up with her mom, her grandmother and dogs. As a child, she dreamed of becoming a writer. “I was alone most of the time, watching movies and TV 24/7. They were my best friends, but I never thought I could do movies. Then, at 14 , she had an epiphany while watching Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, about a high school shooting, on TV. “I was shocked. It was my first auteur film. Until then, I only watched mainstream stuff: Scorsese, you know, funnier stuff. When I watched Elephant, I was drawn body and soul by the silence of the film. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I knew: it’s my job.
Lentzou has a tattoo, two words inked on the inside of his forearm: “Ext Night” – screenwriter lingo for the night outside. She laughs when I point it out to her: “You know what’s funny? I had it done for free when I was 16, when making movies was a dream. Then it happened, and that “- she points to the tattoo -” is the worst of the worst.
After caring for her father for a year and a half, Lentzou remained in Greece when professional caregivers took over. She felt she couldn’t leave. “I had to be there; I couldn’t disappear. I had to go teach them to be there with him. Gradually, she began making a series of award-winning short films with friends. Looking back, being forced to work in Greece could have been a blessing: “Things were going faster. I was shooting at home with my people, on a small budget. I don’t think I could have done that anywhere else. »
She took her time making Moon, 66 Questions, writing the script over the years between shorts. “Above all, I needed to practice and perfect my cinematographic language as much as possible. Because this movie could have been a very simple, cheesy, melodramatic movie.
During the edit, people pestered her to add a dedication to her father, who is still alive. Or open with the caption: “Based on a true story”. Lentzou rolls his eyes and dismisses the idea. “I’m like: No! I want someone to be drawn into the film for the film itself!
Now, finally, she is considering returning to London, or maybe New York: “Somewhere where I can do my job like I deserve do my job. »