A frank, erotically charged portait of two lovers plays out in Cannes’ ACID programme

99 Moons

Source: Zodiac Pictures / Yunus Roy Imer

‘99 Moons’

Dir/scr: Jan Gassmann. Switzerland. 2022. 110 mins.

The repeated waxing and waning of a couple’s relationship across several years is captured in Jan Gassmann’s erotically charged drama, which is as much about control and desire as it is about that little thing called love. There is an impressive frankness and unpredictability to the sexual encounters that pepper the film but putting such an emphasis on the physical over the conversational leads the structure to feel repetitive after a while. Given the erotic nature of much of the content, 99 Moons is most likely to find future play with open-minded festivals after its world premiere in the Association for the Diffusion of Independent Cinema (ACID) showcase at Cannes.

Gassmann is much more interested in body language than the spoken word.

Tsunami expert Bigna (Valentina Di Pace) certainly has no interest in finding ’the one’, choosing one-time role-play hook-ups with men who arrive wearing Jason Voorhees-style hockey masks. As we first meet her, the encounter could initially be mistaken for assault, although Gassmann quickly subverts classical gender roles in a stance that is maintained throughout. Something about Bigna’s latest encounter with Frank (Dominik Fellmann) is not quite the same though – and the pair could not be more different. She, apparently, is most at home with her computer in the more sterile environment of her workspace, while he leads a cluttered life as a gregarious party animal. Her initial decision to block his calls doesn’t last long, however, and by the time we catch up with them ’nine moons’ later, it is clear they are a couple, at least after a fashion.

“We could be more than this,” Frank tells her, while she counters: “You’re confusing sex with love.” This debate lies at the heart of the rest of the film, which – as other relationships come and go – suggests the power of desire can act as a wrecking ball just as easily as a magnet. Di Pace and Fellmann came to their roles as amateur actors rather than professionals, a brave move from their perspective given the large number of sex scenes involved. They acquit themselves well in terms of chemistry but they aren’t called upon for much when it comes to dialogue as Gassmann is much more interested in body language than the spoken word. This is one of the frustrations of a film that repeatedly hints at deeper waters regarding sexual fidelity, gender roles in modern society and monogamy, dipping its toe into these ideas while refusing to take the full intellectual plunge.

The director has previously considered the ins and outs of modern relationships in documentary Europe, She Loves, but within his fictional world it feels as though little is left to chance. Despite the film’s generally loose plotting, people just happen to bump into one another with immaculate timing or show up on the doorstep at the perfect moment, while even thunder and earthquakes seem to arrive right on cue.

By making his characters so apparently self-centred in terms of their desires, Gassmann, conversely, makes them less attractive to us. The sex scenes too, shot by cinematographer Yunus Roy Imer with an emphasis on the erotic rather than the pornographic, begin to feel on the boring side without more underlying drama to support them. While Gassmann captures the energy of a younger generation in which traditional ideas around relationships are shifting, he struggles to fully shape it into a compelling narrative.

Production company: Zodiac Pictures

International sales: M-Appeal, maren@m-appeal.com

Producer: Reto Schaerli, Lukas Hobi

Production design: Mirjam Zimmermann

Cinematography: Yunus Roy Imer

Editing: Miriam Maerk, Jacques L’Amour

Music: Michelle Gurevich

Main cast: Valentina Di Pace, Dominik Fellmann, Danny Exnar, Jessica Huber, Leo Matteo Girolamo, Gregory Hari