First-time director Christos Nikou finds pathos and heart in a film indebted to the works of Yorgos Lanthimos but not defined by them
There’s a very different pandemic afflicting the nation of Greece in Christos Nikou’s debut Apples. Without explanation, people are struck by irreversible amnesia, including Aris (Aris Servetalis), a salt-and-pepper-haired man who takes a bus to the end of the line only to realise he can’t remember his destination.
Despite the eerie relevance of the film’s premise, the world Nikou creates feels like ours one step removed. Without any apparent relatives to claim him, he’s taken to the Disturbed Memory Department of the Neurological Hospital where he agrees to take part in the 'New Identity” program. Aris is assigned with completing tasks from the ordinary to the bizarre, like riding a bike to crashing a car for fun.
Comparisons to Yorgos Lanthimos are inevitable (Nikou was an assistant director on Dogtooth). The population is detached and impassive, having adjusted to life where a stranger at a party might suddenly forget their name. But Nikou also adds his own singular embellishments that allows his movie to stand on its own, even if its deadpan, sardonic tone feels familiar. Where the hotel in The Lobster felt like a deluxe prison, for example, the hospital that Aris finds himself in at least actually helps him move on from his affliction.
Real emotion lies underneath the layers of Aris’ cold exterior, as portrayed with subtlety by Servetalis. Apples tenderly considers how one copes with the loss of their own identity, and whether there’s actually something fortunate in starting over. In his state of arrested development, Aris’ increasingly odd tasks serve to build his personality and interests again, and there’s a joy in his unusual coming of age. One standout scene sees him dance carefree to “Let’s Twist Again,” a stark contrast to the state he’s in when we first meet him: banging his head against the wall in his dreary flat. A chance meeting with a woman a few steps ahead of him in the program appears to show that there’s more to life than the banality of his new everyday routine.
With Apples, the first-time director finds pathos and heart in the outlandish concepts that have made the “Greek Weird Wave” so beloved and revered. The film is an engrossing and thoughtful rumination on grief and the power of memory, and it’s a quiet thrill watching its parallel world slowly unfurl. The title derives from the fruit Aris eats multiple times a day, as he sits solemnly with a knife cutting slices. It’s the sort of muscle memory that bridges the insurmountable gap back to his old self, but also a symbol of new beginnings. A fresh start is its own kind of Eden.Where to watch