Review: 99 Moons
- CANNES 2022: Jan Gassmann’s movie is a story in chapters about love which transforms into pure obsession and challenges the traditional concept of the heterosexual couple
With 99 Moons [+see also:
interview: Jan Gassmann
film profile], Swiss director Jan Gassmann is, in a certain sense, continuing a conversation on intimacy and relationships which he first started with his previous film Europe, She Loves [+see also:
interview: Jan Gassmann
film profile], which follows four couples spread out in four European cities. Presented in a world premiere within the 75th Cannes Film Festival’s ACID selection, 99 Moons leaves the documentary form behind to tell the tale of Bigna and Frank, two thirty-year-olds with very different lives who find themselves wrestling with a mutual attraction which is as unexpected as it is overwhelming, an attraction so strong that it shakes their convictions and shatters the image of the relationships they’d imagined for themselves.
Jan Gassmann’s latest feature film depicts two thirty-year-olds: Bigna, a scientific researcher specialising in tsunamis who’s about to head to Chile for a long-dreamt-of research programme, and Frank, a typical hipster whose main interests are parties, chatting with friends until dawn and artificial paradises. What seems to set them apart, besides their lifestyles, but which ultimately brings them close together, are their ideas about desire and relationships.
Whereas Bigna (played by Valentina Di Pace, taking her first steps as an actress) feels the need to organise her one-night-stands in minute detail, unfolding role-play-style between strangers and transforming her into a ruthless dominatrix, Frank (Dominik Fellmann, also making his debut as an actor) appears trapped in his role as a seemingly open cisgender man who’s actually suffocated by stereotypes which would have him dominant and which proclaim the supremacy of penetration. It’s difficult for him to admit the desire and excitement he feels for these role-play games in which he (voluntarily) assumes a subordinate position. This realisation, in some respects painful and destabilising, leads him to question an entire value system: the exaltation of the heterosexual and monogamous couple and the notion of a virile and all-conquering masculinity. Despite his open-mindedness, he finds it far harder to leave traditional gender roles behind him than he imagined. Bigna, meanwhile, has to take a good hard look at her own rules and consider breaking them on account of an attraction which it would be reductive to describe as “love”.
Jan Gassmann depicts Bigna and Frank’s story in chapters, which are composed of meet-ups and abandonments unfolding over the course of eight years plus. Eight years in which their questioning never stops and their desire refuses to be extinguished, mutating into veritable obsession. Although both of them try, both separately and together, to take the road of heteronormativity, it always seems to lead to a dead end. That which draws them together, however, seems intimately linked to a freedom and union which can’t (and don’t want to) be harnessed, something unique which belongs only to them, and which Gassmann is quick to depict in direct and full-on sex scenes which challenge our habits as viewers.
What is it that differentiates sex from love? Is it really possible to dictate common rules for every couple? What if these dictates, and the inability to freely choose our own rules, were the source of our ruin? These are just a few of the questions which Gassmann tries to tackle, jeopardising an equilibrium which defines society itself.
(Translated from Italian)
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