Athenians are afflicted with contagious amnesia in a powerful directorial debut about the unexpected comforts of forgetting
Written and shot before COVID-19 ravaged the planet, Apples may well take the title for “most unfortunately timely film in recent memory,” exploring, as it does, the social and emotional effects of a sudden global pandemic. In the case of Christos Nikou’s film, though, the illness is less physical than mental, with people struck down with sudden bouts of total amnesia. It’s a terrifying premise, though one that Nikou uses less for horror and more to tell a sad, gentle story of a man who finds a sort of freedom in losing his old life.
This man is Aris (Aris Servetalis), who, after falling asleep on the bus, finds himself at the end of the line with absolutely no recollection of where he was going or even who he is, the only fragments of his memory being his love for apples and the name of his neighbour’s friendly dog, Malou. With no ID on him, and no family coming to claim him, he’s sent to an amnesiac ward before his doctors start him on an experimental program to see if they can trigger a memory return.
Armed with a camera and a list of experiences he should have, Aris wanders around a lonely, desolate Athens and tries to reclaim some semblance of a life. It’s a solitary and melancholy experience, but Nikou finds plenty of gentle humour in it too, with Aris’s attempts at relearning bike-riding and swimming particularly funny highlights. Along the way, Aris’s tasks start to coincide with those of Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), a fellow amnesiac on the same program as Aris, and the pair take a shine to each other as they help one another unlock forgotten skills like cooking, dancing, and driving.
As a weird Greek film, Apples has earned a lot of comparisons to the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, while Nikou was in fact a crew member on Lanthimos’s breakout hit Dogtooth. Apples is a warmer, less abrasive piece of work than Lanthimos' collected works, though. While there are moments of blackly funny indignity – one panicking amnesiac was “infected” at a Halloween party and has to spend his time at hospital being referred to only as Batman – it shows little of the nastiness that drove The Favourite or The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
This gentler tone allows Nikou to go for a more ambiguous ending that will raise a few more questions than it answers but, at the same time, is very emotionally satisfying. That said, some more effort in the world-building department would have been appreciated. Obviously, Apples’s central conceit wouldn’t work in a world with smartphones, but instead of making it a period piece or crafting a sort of lo-fi alt-future, Nikou simply asks you to believe in a world where everything is the same, except there are no phones, which can be jarring.
Despite its memory-loss subject matter, Apples can’t simply be lumped in with other “dementia films” – its characters are fully capable of looking after themselves and retain their grasp of language – but it does find catharsis in similar places. Song lyrics bring an old memory to life and glimpses of a funeral trigger something deep within. Apples can be rather opaque, but in its affecting examination of what we remember and the strange value of forgetting, it's bound to stay with you.
Apples is available on various streaming platforms from 7 April.Where to watch