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Jan Gassmann • Director of 99 Moons

“My movies are never far away from me; I need to live what I’m writing”


- CANNES 2022: We talked to the Swiss director, whose latest feature tells the story of two very different people who are unable to live apart

Jan Gassmann • Director of 99 Moons
(© Andreas Lentz)

99 Moons [+see also:
film review
interview: Jan Gassmann
film profile
, screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival’s ACID selection, is a movie about sexual attraction, but also about freedom. Director Jan Gassmann tells the story of two very different people who can’t live apart and who are caught up in a passionate love affair that turns their lives upside down.

Cineuropa: Relationships, love and sex are central topics in your films. Why are you so interested in these dynamics?
Jan Gassmann: My movies are never far away from me; I need to live what I’m writing. And as a person, I’m trying to find out what kind of a relationship I want to experience. This search also happens through my films. In my surroundings, the quest for love seems to have replaced the search for God. The determination to find your “true love”, your soulmate, creates so many contradictions. And of course, there is what the French call l’amour physique, a sort of relationship that is characterised by high intensity, ecstasy, and emotional wear and tear. The greatest challenge is to transform it before it cools down and take the next step. That’s what my characters Frank and Bigna are trying to do.

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Your leads are acting for the first time here; how did you choose them, and how did you succeed in gaining their confidence, especially for the more intimate scenes?
The casting process took almost two years, and I screen-tested with both professional and non-professional actors. I have known Dominik [Fellmann], who plays Frank, for ten years: he worked as a carpenter on my movie Off Beat [+see also:
film profile
. Three years ago, I met him by chance and told him that he should try out for the casting. My casting director, Lisa Olàh, was fascinated by his energy and spurred him on. Valentina [Di Pace], who plays Bigna, applied through social media and immediately gave a strong impression. When we finally did a joint casting with those two, we all felt there was a lot of tension.

Once the decision had been made, we started to work: we improvised and rehearsed scenes. We spent a lot of time discussing the characters’ motivations. A few months before the shoot, we started to work with Cornelia Dworak on the intimate scenes. As an intimacy coordinator, she provided us with the necessary tools to discuss the way we wanted to shoot these scenes, what the taboos would be and what the boundaries were. Finally, we went into choreographing those scenes. It was a slow process, which enabled us all to be confident on set but to feel free as well.

I strongly believe that the way we touch each other, the way we make love, is a mirror of our relationships and sexuality; it is a form of expression that should not be left out of cinema. Those scenes are not just “sex scenes” to me; they give us important keys to understanding the story and the relationship. They let us dive into the characters.

The way you narrate the movie is quite dry, as a lot of things (including intentions and feelings) are suggested, rather than depicted, per se. Was it intentional to leave viewers to fill in the gaps of the story, which develops over a long period of time?
Yes, it was intentional. This is the sort of narration and acting I like. It was also my intention to use as little dialogue as possible. The structure of the movie, consisting of six fragments over a period of 99 moons, had to let us focus on the moments that Frank and Bigna have together and was never meant to be explanatory. I love the idea that each viewer will perhaps have a different interpretation of the “blanks” that we don’t see on screen.

Would it be correct to see the movie as a critique of, or a reflection on, the classical model of the heterosexual couple and its limitations?
Yes, it is a critique. Bigna and Frank try out different forms of their relationship, but they fail each time to meet their ideal. Yet they still need those ideals to hold on to. They both understand and feel that society is changing: Frank, for example, discovers through Bigna a sexuality that is not based on penetration, which is liberating for him. Bigna staunchly refuses the role of a mother, knowing she wants to follow her scientific passion. But then they have a tendency to fall back into old-world patterns. Maybe we are a generation in between – verging on 40 and imitating our parents?

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