‘My film would not exist if the patriarchy did not exist’: the director confronting the Greek establishment | Movie

men 2012, Jacqueline Lentzou picked up her cousin’s phone in Athens, Greece. Remember exactly the date: June 19. Lentzou was 20 years old and studying to be a director at the London Film School. “My cousin told me: ‘Your father is in the hospital. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t walk. You have to go back'”. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

For the next 18 months, she became her father’s caretaker. At the time, it seemed like her directing career was over before she got off to the right start: “The only thing that kept me from believing that it was all over was the fact that I would make a movie about it. I have known since 2012 that this would be my first film. I had to do it to move on in my life.”

A decade later, that feature has been done. His name is Moon, 66 Questions and he is as fierce, intense and thoughtful as Lentzou, speaking via video call from his home in Athens. Since the film premiered in Berlin last year, he has not spoken publicly about his autobiographical beginnings, until now. He worried that his life story would be a distraction. “I don’t hide it, but at the same time I’m not too open. Just because I would never, ever want the actual event of the movie” – he puts “actual event” in invisible quotes – “to divert attention from the actual movie”. In addition, he adds: “The real story is much harder.”

Moon, 66 Questions is squarely in the arthouse tradition, unconventional and defiantly unsentimental (although it is very emotional at the end). Sofia Kokkali plays Artemis, who flies to Athens after her father is hospitalized. As the only child of divorced parents, her extended family (rich, conservative and churchgoing) expects her to take care of 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 his own life, would Lentzou have been asked to leave everything if he had been a son? She shakes her head. “No”, she replies with a thin, ironic smile. “If I were a child, they would call me just to go visit and then send me to work.”

Lentzou wanted to show what it is like to live in a male-dominated Greece; the expectations placed on women and “toxic” homophobia. Her script features a gay character who has lived in the closet for many years. “My film is deeply and above all about patriarchy, and this repression that people have to go through and deny their own souls. This is the heart of the film. It wouldn’t exist if patriarchy didn’t exist.”

Speaks a week after two men’s high-profile conviction for killing Zak Kostopoulos, 33-year-old LGBTQ+ activist in Athens. Witnesses described the attack as similar to a lynching. Four police officers, also charged with causing fatal bodily harm, walked free. Lentzou looks furious; for the first time, he is speechless. “He was kicked to death in the center of Athens at four in the afternoon. I get goosebumps telling you this story. Imagine, this is in Athens, the capital. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the other smaller cities in Greece.”

In the film, she doesn’t mince words with her honest portrayal of a grown child caring for a parent. The camera keeps rolling for bits a Hollywood movie would cut out: Artemis’s unbearable embarrassment at seeing her father in the bathroom for the first time or changing her incontinence pants.

What happens when you care for a sick father is that you switch between the caregiver and the daughter, says Lentzou. “It’s a double agent role. Artemis could not take him to the bathroom believing that she is the daughter. So she’s not the daughter, she’s just there to help him. She then she returns to the role of daughter. I think it’s impossible to change your father’s diapers knowing that he is your father.” It’s all a bit too much for some. “There are people who are shocked, for sure, because they think that the film is very hard, that it is very direct.”

Artemis on the Moon, 66 Questions
“Artemis spends most of the film seething with resentment and anger.” Sofia Kokkali plays Artemis in Luna, 66 questions. Photography: Moon, still from the film 66 Questions

Lentzou doesn’t spoon feed his audience either. We never find out anything about Artemis: where he lives, what he works for. But in Kokkali’s brilliant performance, in the little glimpses she gives of the nutty coldness, playfulness and hint of a buzzing inner life of Artemis, we get a glimpse of who she is. This retention has caused some problems in Greece, says Lentzou: “Some people are bored, which I totally understand. It was one of my biggest risks, making a potentially difficult movie to watch. But, as a viewer, I like to see something that challenges me.”

At this point, our interview is interrupted by the barking of his dog from the hallway. “She never barks,” Lentzou says, walking to the door to let in a furry ball of fur that bounces on his lap. “Our interview has gotten too personal now,” he laughs.

Lentzou grew up with his mother, grandmother and dogs. As a child she dreamed of being 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 make movies.” Then, at 14, she had an epiphany while she was watching the Gus Van Sant movie. 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 saw Elephant, I was drawn in body and soul by the silence of the film. I couldn’t believe what I saw. And I knew: this is my job.”

Lentzou has a tattoo, two words written on the inside of his forearm: “Ext Night” – screenwriting slang for outside night. She laughs when I point it out: “You know what’s funny? They did it to me for free when I was 16, when making movies was a dream. Then it happened, and this,” the tattoo notes, “is the cheesiest worst thing.”

Watch the trailer for Luna, 66 Questions.

After caring for her father for a year and a half, Lentzou stayed behind in Greece when professional carers took over. He felt that he could not leave. “It had to be close; I couldn’t disappear. I had to go teach them how to be there with him.” Gradually, he began directing a series of award-winning short films with the team of friends. Looking back, being forced to work in Greece might have been a blessing: “Things went faster. I was filming at home with my people, on a low budget. I don’t think I could have done that anywhere else.”

He took his time making Moon, 66 Questions, writing the script over the years between shorts. “First of all, I needed to practice and make my film language as perfect as possible. Because this movie could have been a very easy, cheesy, melodramatic movie.”

During editing, people urged her to add a dedication to her father, who is still alive. She or she opens with the caption: “Based on a true story.” Lentzou rolls his eyes and dismisses the idea with a gesture. “I’m like: no! I want someone to be drawn to the movie for the movie’s sake!”

Now, at last, she’s thinking about moving back to London, or maybe to New York: “Somewhere where I can do my job the way I want.” deserve to do my job.

Moon, 66 Questions hits UK cinemas from June 24

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