Pictured: Not looking for True Love to find her in the end, Artemis (Sofia Kokkali), a young woman tasked with looking after a man with a debilitating disease in the Greek-language film, 'Moon, 66 Questions', written and directed by Jacqueline Lentzou. Still courtesy of Modern Films (UK)
‘Was he her uncle?’ one woman asked her friend, referring to the late middle-aged man, Paris (Lazaros Geôrgakopoulos) being cared for by a young woman, Artemis (Sofia Kokkali), who appeared to have had a falling out with him some years before.
‘He is definitely her father,’ I intervened. No young woman would give up her life to look after a man who wasn’t her direct blood relative. It is clear he has no one else.
If he was Artemis’ uncle, I asked myself, where is Artemis’ father? There are a whole group of family members who drop in and out, in some instances to remonstrate with Artemis or to interview potential help or to just use the outdoor pool or play the recorder. Bless you, Victoria (Sofia Polychronou) for your performance. How cruel it must have been to hear your relatives trying to silence you.
Watching Moon, 66 Questions, I was forced to draw my own conclusions. Greek-born, London Film School-trained writer-director Jacqueline Lentzou, making her debut feature, offers a work that challenges perceptions and doesn’t round off any point. Artemis makes a discovery, but we are not entirely sure what it is. Her emotional journey isn’t fully explained. One reviewer described the film as ‘oblique’. I felt it draws you in to Artemis’ responses. At some moments, you watch her with detachment – the film begins and ends with video footage from the late 1990s (1996-99). At others, you feel her pain and anxiety. It is an intellectual and visceral roller-coaster ride that is intentionally unsatisfying.
Chief amongst the film’s unyielding mystery is the title. What are those sixty-six questions and did anyone keep count? It is a challenge I am willing to accept.
1. Where is Artemis flying from?
No idea. We first meet Artemis on a plane, in voiceover reflecting on her father being found in his car, dehydrated. Her voice accompanies home video footage: a skiing holiday, a road.
2. In the opening, are we watching the same tape or edited footage?
The images go back in time – one image recorded over another, indicated by a time code. We appear to be watching one tape used for multiple recordings. Artemis’ voice replaces the soundtrack, or at least dulls it.
3. Who is holding the camera?
In at least one instance, it could be Artemis’ mother (Maria Zorba). Perhaps she is pregnant with Artemis and couldn’t risk skiing. Or she may have chosen not to ski for other reasons.
4. Could the video footage be clues to the discovery Artemis makes later on?
The locations don’t appear to be connected. We don’t see them again. Maybe this question gives Lentzou too much credit.
5. Why does the old man leave when Artemis visits Paris in hospital?
The old man clearly knows Artemis. ‘Thank goodness you have made up with him,’ he tells her. Artemis pulls an expression to indicate that might not be the case. She introduces herself. Paris doesn’t respond. The old man leaves the pair to have what I assume to be a father-daughter moment. Or maybe he is just glad to leave. I thought he might be Paris’ father. I’m not sure if we see him again.
6. Why is Paris in hospital?
Partly due to his condition, affecting his muscles. He can no longer walk normally, his legs lacking the strength to bear the weight of the rest of his body. He shakes and moves slowly. He can feed himself but getting to the toilet in time is (we discover) a real problem.
7. What about bathing?
We don’t see Paris washing himself or being washed by others. Lentzou is sensitive to his dignity.
8. Why does Artemis remove the number plates from Paris’ car?
I would have thought confiscating Paris’ car keys would be enough, but Artemis doesn’t want the car to be used by anyone. Alternatively, if Paris was able to get into it and somehow drive out of the garage (big ask) and ended up miles from home, he would not be easily identified, robbing Artemis of her obligation to collect him. Removing the number plates appears to be a resentful act, Artemis channelling her anger into the task.
9. Why does Lentzou choose an overhead shot to show Paris receiving physical therapy for the first time?
Lentzou blocks out the faces of the group assembled to watch Paris having his muscles exercised for a very simple reason: these people don’t matter in the story. Sure, they turn up and look concerned, but they don’t commit themselves to any tasks. To them, this might as well be theatre. Come look at the talented man as he makes a space for his blue floormat, unfurling it in the centre of the room. See Paris being laid on his back, one knee bent as his leg is drawn towards his stomach. The shot is initially disorientating, almost vertiginous. It objectifies Paris. He is the obligation to be met, the problem to be solved.
10. How can young people go swimming when there is a man in distress in the house?
As if underlining the fact that they don’t care, at least two young women make use of the outdoor pool. They invite Artemis to join them. She refuses. Lentzou places the camera under the water to show a young woman swimming under water and Artemis’ legs also moving. Hydrotherapy is part of Paris’ routine (it is inferred). Water is also associated – in any number of films – with female sexuality. Artemis’ reluctance to go into the pool suggests that she has put her love life on hold, that she has neutered herself. She appears to be 20 going on 12.
11. Does Paris really enjoy watching television?
In more than one scene, we see Paris watching television. He is impassive. We don’t see what he is watching (saves on copyright fees) but in one instance we hear the grunting of tennis players. Artemis comes in to administer an injection, but Paris makes no concession. Frustrated, Artemis tells him to do it himself. For Paris, television appears to be his raison d’êtré. It isn’t clear whether it gives him any pleasure – watching others do things that he cannot. Perhaps it makes him forget his condition as he loses himself in someone else’s struggles, sporting or otherwise.
12. How can Artemis be so cruel in mocking Paris?
Artemis sits at the family bar in a corner of a room. I didn’t entirely register this when watching the film, but perhaps the house is also a place of work, though there is no exterior that establishes this. In fact, the majority of scenes in the film take place indoors. Artemis switches on the sound system. It is too loud, so she switches it off. She imitates Paris, shaking as she slowly moves a spoon to her mouth. She orders a drink (‘neat’) and plays at being bartender. She switches the music back on, lowering it to a level that (we sense) won’t disturb Artemis.
13. How does Artemis feel about Paris?
This is never entirely clear. Their relationship is broadly unspoken. In Paris’s case, he barely speaks.
14. What about that scene in which she acts out a conversation between Paris and herself?
In a partial concession to the audience, or just to express some frustration, Artemis play-acts the time Paris stopped her from spending time with her friends, refusing to allow her to go on a trip. Artemis plays both parts, pleading with Paris and refusing her wish. Artemis ends up under a bedsheet and sobs. We sense that he was either being over-protective or just plain cruel.
15. If Artemis is so good at play acting, why in the game of Charades can no one guess her movie?
Artemis and another young woman act out a movie – the whole thing. It ends with Artemis asking her co-mime to choke her – against the rules, but sometimes you need violence to make a point. I started by guessing Beverly Hills Chihuahua. If you’re going to be wrong, go big. The two women play act shooting each other. It could be one of those bad relationship movies – the partner you thought was perfect ends up stalking you. It could be Die Hard in an ice cream truck.
16. Why did no one make Die Hard 6 when Bruce Willis was well?
The charades scene makes the point that communication is hard. You can’t assume shared points of reference. Where do these people even come from? You can read about sport in the newspaper, but that doesn’t mean that you know who Cameron Norrie is.
17. Forget Wimbledon 2022. Can I get back to the movie summary?
18. Why does Artemis take Paris to a garden centre?
For Lentzou to show that Artemis cannot cope. Alternatively, Paris might like plants as much as he likes sports. Perhaps going to a garden centre is an outing for people who don’t like to be seen in public.
19. Does Artemis notice those two strangers speculating about Paris’ condition?
Possibly, but she blanks them out. She wants to get from one end of the garden centre to the other.
20. Does she make it?
No. Paris can’t bear to walk anymore. Artemis runs to fetch a chair – white, plastic, outdoor furniture. She races to find Paris lying in the ground.
21. Couldn’t those two strangers have helped?
In Greece, as perhaps in other countries, people don’t like to get involved. Gossip by all means, but don’t lend a hand.
22. Is Lentzou saying something about the cruelty of strangers?
23. Speaking of which, how did the Bulgarian woman know to turn up at the house for the interview as a home help?
Some people can read languages better than they can speak. As one of the family member says, speaking isn’t important. Paris doesn’t speak much. A home help just has to know how to take care of him and that she can lift him.
24. Why does Artemis offer the potential home help ice cream?
As we learn later, ice cream is Artemis’ favourite food. There is a tendency for others to treat a person who cannot speak their language as if they are a child. Especially, if the person does not respond when being asked a question; they can appear ‘simple’. Artemis hopes to settle the woman’s nerves. The scene is played for awkward comedy.
25. Why does Lentzou break up the film with tarot cards?
Tarot cards function like chapter headings – characters or emotions are represented by cards. I couldn’t quite hang on to the name of card to be able to relate it to the subsequent scene. Tarot cards are supposed to reveal the future but only have a tenuous connection to an individual’s life. People read in the random revelation of a card something that could happen to them. They may have bad luck or meet an unpromising stranger or have bad luck while meeting an unpromising stranger. However, Artemis needs something to unlock her father – to enable him to properly communicate with her.
26. When reading tarot cards, the top card represents romance, the second finances, followed by health and happiness. Why does no one do a reading for Paris?
Who believes in that nonsense?
27. Why is Artemis so surprised when an old man is in her house?
After initially greeting an elderly visitor, Artemis asks him how he got in. Did he crawl in? The visitor doesn’t answer the question. It is rude. You are supposed to treat visitors with respect.
28. Artemis plays table tennis with other young people. Why does not she have a best friend?
We assume that Artemis has a confidante, hence her voiceover at the beginning, but it isn’t clear who this is. In a Hollywood film, someone would be established as her best friend. In real life, people are less dependable. They don’t show up for exposition at particular points in the protagonist’s journey. Artemis doesn’t have someone to help her cope.
29. Does the table tennis scene forward the drama?
It establishes that Artemis can function in a group. This is her only escape from looking after Paris. We see Artemis describe herself as looking after her uncle, rather than her father. Hence the confusion of at least two cinemagoers.
30. Why not say she is looking after her father?
If you are looking after an uncle, it sounds like a job, something you are paid for. If you are looking after your father, people ask questions.
31. What sort of questions?
How can you spend your life looking after your father? Shouldn’t someone else do that.
32. Wouldn’t they feel sorry for her?
Of course. Then again, Artemis might have no use for their pity.
33. Has there every been a romantic comedy where a boy has fallen for a girl whilst she was caring for her sick father?
Put that into a search engine and you just get lists of romantic comedies. I can’t think of one, but usually in tragic romances it is one of the lovers who gets sick.
34. Like ‘The Big Sick’?
Is that a question?
35. Why does Artemis drive Paris’ car in a garage?
In the film’s most visceral scene, Artemis decides to exercise her driving skills. The scene is set to Daniel Johnston’s song, ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’, previously sampled in Katharine O’Brien’s 2019 film, Lost Transmissions. It is a consoling piece of music, a hopeful message uttered with kindness. Meanwhile, the car’s jerky movements set us on edge. She reverses the car a little, then turns the wheels to the right. Eventually, Artemis drives the vehicle into the wall, cutting her forehead as she gets out – we not the scar on her forehead in later scenes. Artemis rummaged through the glove compartment and finds a photo with a message on the back of it. We can’t read what’s written, but it shifts Artemis’ perspective.
36. What happens to the car?
We see it taken to a scrapyard without its tyres and turned into an oblong of metal and imitation leather.
37. What does Artemis do with the photo?
She confronts her mother – well, sort of. She doesn’t want her mother to play a motherly part in her life. But then Artemis does something strange? She tells her mother: ‘I take your apology and I put it in my back pocket.’
38. What sort of person puts another person’s apology in their back pocket?
A person whose front pockets are full. I suspect this is something Artemis’ mother said to Artemis growing up. Perhaps Lentzou’s own mother said it to Lentzou.
39. What does it mean?
I’ll accept that you are sorry, but I might raise it with you later.
40. Does Artemis say something to Paris?
She takes Paris for a meal. They enjoy ice cream. She has written Paris a letter. He doesn’t want to read it. She won’t read it to him. They end up hugging. An understanding is reached.
41. Is that it?
I neglected to mention that Artemis takes Paris to a wheelchair specialist. Paris struggles to propel himself. Artemis sits in another wheelchair and demonstrates moving the chair forwards and backwards. Paris looks non-plussed.
42. Does a wheelchair give Paris agency?
No. A family member complains that if Paris keeps the chair he won’t try to walk again.
43. So the Bulgarian woman didn’t get the job as his helper?
No, she did not.
44. Do the family interview anyone else?
Yes. This is the scene in which young Victoria is invited to play her recorder, toots out a couple of tunes and then is silenced. We feel for the child, embarrassed by being asked to play, humiliated when asked to stop.
45. Is there a point when Artemis cannot cope?
Paris appears to have some sort of bathroom accident on the way. Artemis pulls down his adult diaper a little. We don’t find out what transpired.
46. Is there more home video footage from the 1990s?
47. Do they help us understand Artemis’ discovery?
48. What do we think she has discovered?
There is an inference that either Paris or her mother were unfaithful. At any rate, Artemis’ mother was not obligated to him.
49. Does the moon make an appearance?
Yes, there is an image of a near full moon in the pale azure sky.
50. 'Moon, 66 Questions' has a young principal viewpoint character, but is it a young person’s film?
No, it is not a film designed specifically to appeal to a young audience. Young person’s films specifically deal with the choices that they make and the agency that they exercise. Artemis has limited scope to exercise agency. Paris isn’t represented as a problem to be solved. Lentzou’s camera is detached. The tarot cards, associated with an older culture, enhance our sense that this isn’t a youth film.
51. Is withholding information a cheat?
Film narratives can create the illusion of certainty. In real life, we only really know what we are told or shown and even that may be unreliable.
52. The home movie footage stops at the end of the 20th Century. Is this significant?
Perhaps. There aren’t that many indicators that Moon, 66 Questions takes place in 2019 or immediately pre-Covid – it was screened in 2020 as a work approaching completion and premiered at the 2021 Berlinale. Equally, video filming isn’t part of the drama that we watch. The home movie footage is less important for what we see and more indicative of a life that Paris can no longer access.
53. Do I wish Lentzou had entitled her film, ‘Moon, 44 Questions’?
Yes, but there is already a film called Moon 44, directed by Roland Emmerich.
54. Is there a danger that Lentzou’s film is mistakenly categorised as science fantasy?
55. Is there any significance to Artemis being an only child?
For dramatic purposes, it suits Lentzou. Artemis is facing a problem that she alone is tasked to deal with. The film is partially about the obligations of the young and the gulf between their lives and the lives of those to whom they are obligated. Before Artemis was born, Greece went through a period of political upheaval following a military coup in 1967 and the abolition of the Greek monarchy in 1973. Eventually, in 1981, Greece joined the European Union. Young people do not share the experience of their parents. There is an absolute generation gap.
56. Why doesn’t Artemis resent her mother more?
Perhaps she does and will take those feelings out of her back pocket.
57. The film has ‘66’ in the title. The home movie footage ends in ‘99’. Isn’t this a film about punctuation?
Now you’re stretching.
58. There are many internationally renowned French, Italian and Spanish film directors, but few Greeks, aside from Theo Angelopolous, Costa-Gavras and Yorgos Lanthimos. Why is that?
Greece provides support to film productions. Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives Out and Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg’s ‘comeback’ body horror film, were shot there. Zorba The Greek is the highest grossing Greek production of all time – and it stars Anthony Quinn and is not even in Greek. It is fair to say that Greek authors wrote the rules of drama but left cinema behind. Censorship may also have played a part. Greece has also experienced economic difficulties. Domestic film production suffers during those times.
59. Can Greek filmmakers catch up?
I’m cautiously optimistic. However, Greek film directors might not always work in their home country, as in the case of Lanthimos.
60. Artemis may understand Paris a little better. But she is still left to care for him. Isn’t this a depressing ending?
Yes and no. The understanding almost certainly will make Artemis’ task a little easier.
61. Why do you think there are no internationally renowned recorder players as there are flautists like James Galway?
Have you heard the recorder? All those hollow sounds, shrill not sweet. In my day you had to learn to play ‘Little Donkey’. Torture!
62. How much do you think Artemis got for selling Paris’ car as scrap?
In the UK, scrap metal is sold per tonne. You have to ask a dealer.
63. Do you think the title of the film refers to the number of questions Artemis wanted to ask Paris, like ‘why couldn’t I go on that trip?’
I doubt that she numbered them.
64. Only three questions to go. Am I glad?
65. Where can one watch ‘Moon, 66 Questions’?
Alas it only lasted a week in UK arthouse cinemas. It is available to stream. Check the Modern Films website.
66.Was it a good idea to organise a film review around sixty-six questions?
I’m not going to answer that.
Reviewed at ‘The Studio’, BFI South Bank, Waterloo, London, Thursday 30 June 2022, 17:50 screening