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Jacqueline Lentzou is the new romantic of Greek Weird cinema

The Greek filmmaker talks astrology, working with Paul Thomas Anderson, and her emotional new film Moon, 66 Questions

Jacqueline Lentzou doesn’t technically believe in the Greek Weird Wave. “I would love to be part of a wave that revolutionises cinema,” Lentzou, 33, tells Dazed from her home in Athens. “But, unfortunately, there is no wave. I believe in (Yorgos) Lanthimos’s cinema – that’s separate. I believe in (Athina Rachel) Tsangari’s cinema – that’s separate. And so on and so forth.”

So far, Lentzou’s cinema is defined by her debut feature, Moon, 66 Questions, an unconventional family drama that embraces odd camera angles and mood-setting cutaways. “Usually people say that ‘Greek Weird’ cinema doesn’t provoke emotions and isn’t very moving. But everyone comes out of my movie crying. It’s a heart-based film with a weird energy.”

The heart aspect belongs to the complex relationship between an aimless twentysomething, Artemis (Sofia Kokkali), and her largely non-verbal father, Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos). When Paris is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Artemis returns to Athens as a personal carer for a man whom she never truly understood. In her childhood bedroom, Artemis re-enacts teenage screaming matches – as she’s alone, she impersonates her father’s dialogue – that, a decade later, bring her to tears yet again. Home videos reveal further tensions between the pair that were never resolved.

Meanwhile, Lentzou mimics Artemis’s fractured headspace by adding esoteric layers to a film that, according to its title card, is really called Moon, 66 Questions: A Film About Love, Movement, Flow (and the Lack of Them). Interspersed throughout are vignettes of grainy VHS footage and tarot cards that are presented like chapter headings. “I wanted to show Artemis listening to an astrological forecast,” Lentzou notes. “When you have a headache, you take a painkiller. You kill the symptom, not the cause. It’s how I wanted astrology to be in the film.”

Also important to Lentzou was astronomy, hence the title. “The Moon revolves around Earth in the same way the daughter revolves around her father all the time. And when the Moon revolves around Earth, it affects the tides and the waters inside our bodies.”

Moon, 66 Questions marks Lentzou’s third collaboration with Kokkali, who also starred in Lentzou’s Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year, a 2018 short that won the Leica Cine Discovery Prize at Cannes. With her other shorts playing festivals such as Berlin and Locarno, Lentzou has been slowly developing her craft for a decade. She’s stunned to hear that, through deep Googling, I found an early synopsis from 2016 when the film was titled On the Name of a Father (a Jacques Lacan reference, she says) and had a dual storyline in which Artemis raised a dog. “The puppy story had to go. I decided to make a harsher film.”

By the time Lentzou took the screenplay to Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s credited as a script consultant, she was several drafts beyond the dog plot. The pair met at the Sundance Mediterranean Film Lab in Costa Navarino in 2019 and spent two days discussing the film. “PTA took me to his room, with his kids and his wife, and we had breakfast, and it was a very heartwarming situation. After he read the script, he told me, ‘You don’t need any advice. You know what you’re doing.’ I told him, ‘I know what I know.’ He gave me a boost in confidence.”

In a blog post for MUBI Notebook, Lentzou listed The Death of Leopold, a 1910 painting by Léon Spilliaert, as one of the film’s major inspirations. Through the magic of Zoom’s virtual background function, I pull up the painting and an almost identical image from Magnolia when Philip Seymour Hoffman visits Philip Baker Hall at the hospital. “Now that you mention it – back then, I didn’t know why I loved this painting, but I loved Magnolia. And you know something? PTA told me that this film, for me, is like his Magnolia, because it’s such a personal story.”

In that same blog post, Lentzou referred to 15 August 2015 as the day she “discovered something personal that changed not only me, but everything around me”. In our conversation, she declines to elaborate on what she learned or how autobiographical the film is. “I know these people,” she says, cryptically. “I know this daughter very, very well. She exists. I know this father very, very well. Because I love both of them, I decided to make a film about them.”

In a surprise development – shut your phone or chuck your laptop away if you’re afraid of spoilers – Artemis learns that her father was in love with another man. “We’ve seen many films where the parents discover that their kid is homosexual. I was interested in the reverse: the daughter finds out the father is gay, and she helps him speak about it. I haven’t seen a film do this.” I then let her know about François Ozon’s Everything Went Fine, a tonally different drama that’s also about an adult daughter caring for an ill, elderly father with a secret boyfriend. In the UK, they come out a week apart. “I’ll have to watch it and speak to François Ozon about it!”

“Paul Thomas Anderson told me that this film, for me, is like his Magnolia, because it’s such a personal story” – Jacqueline Lentzou

What’s not in Ozon’s film is the hazy dreaminess that permeates Artemis’s days. Whereas Paris struggles to move on his own, Artemis will hang out with her youthful, energetic friends, playing ping-pong in their underwear or re-enacting classic movies in the garden. On her own, though, Artemis behaves irrationally. Part of Artemis’s frustration is to do with a home country whose social beliefs are highlighted in Moon, 66 Questions. “Greece is, unfortunately, still a conservative place,” Lentzou laments. “Very old-minded people exist here with weird ideologies. It’s not a friendly place if you’re different. If Paris wasn’t a Greek guy belonging to this Greek Orthodox, conservative, middle-upper class family, he would probably be a free person. Maybe he wouldn’t have been a father.

“Everyone asks me about the daughter/father relationship and the unspoken love, but the film is about patriarchy and suppression. This is what the film says: if you don’t accept yourself, you get sick. You’re in a country that doesn’t let you accept yourself.”

Lentzou’s next film will also be “personal” and set in Greece. Whereas most directors of the Greek Weird Wave (if you believe it exists) have left their home country, Lentzou wishes to persevere. “It’s horrific to work in Greece. You submit something (for funding), you get a reply two years after. You can’t plan. You have to dance with the chaos.”

But didn’t Ruben Östlund and David Cronenberg shoot, respectively, Triangle of Sadness and Crimes of the Future in Greece? “Our government has made it nice and easy for filmmakers to come to Greece. But for Greek filmmakers, it continues to be as hard as it was.”

Moon, 66 Questions is out in UK cinemas on June 24. Find out about screenings here