Apples, Christos Nikou’s assured debut as a director, is a disturbing, opaque fable about the relationship between memory, identity, grief and the selfie culture, set in Athens during an allegorical pandemic.
Blank Canvasby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
There’s a pandemic gripping Athens in a strange, amorphous analog present where there are cassette recorders and Polaroid cameras but nothing digital – no mobile phones or internet. The virus strikes sufferers down without warning with a kind of metaphorical amnesia.
So many of them wander helplessly in the streets that they are taken to a special neurological hospital for the memory disturbed, where they are kept until claimed by relatives. Or not.
A trial research project aims to help those who remain there – memory-less and thus without access to their past – to build a new identity. Taking part is voluntary, but in fact there’s no alternative.
We first see Aris (melancholy, bearded, deadpan Aris Servertalis) beating his head against the wall of his apartment while the radio plays a wistful ‘Scarborough Fair’. As he goes out, he greets his neighbour and his dog. So far, so ordinary. He falls asleep on a bus. When he is woken at the terminus by the driver, he can no longer remember who he is, where he has come from or was going to. He has no ID on him, so he is taken to the neurological hospital.
In time, as part of the programme to prompt his memory to return, one doctor (Anna Kalaitzidou) instals him in an apartment and both his doctors give him increasingly difficult and bizarre tasks to perform every day and to photograph himself doing them, entering his apartment and checking up on him. These start with riding a bike and progress in the end to a very emotionally demanding task, via attending a costume party and picking up a stranger for a one-night stand.
Some personal traits or muscle memories persist despite amnesia, such as Aris’s love of apples and knowledge of some song lyrics. Other memories seem lost forever, for him and also for fellow sufferer Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), such as knowing what they were or did before they lost their memories.
The two meet by chance in the cinema, where they watch a famous film as if for the first time and start to form a relationship as far as two people can who don’t know who they are. Anna is further along in the tasks required by the recovery programme than Aris, so not only does he have no memory of his past but he can also see a few days into his future.
It’s an occluded, grey-coloured world, in lighting and clothing, with its two main characters moving at the tempo of traumatised patients in recovery. Servertalis has little dialogue, his face and body language are mostly expressionless, yet from time to time he conveys the slightest hint that there is something else going on, which may eventually be revealed.
Director Nikou was Yorgos Lanthimos‘s assistant director on Dogtooth, and there is a definite Lanthimos absurdist feel of The Lobster of the ‘Greek Weird Wave’ to Apples. Nikou cites Spike Jonze, Leos Carax and Charlie Kaufman as influences. Filmed in a claustrophobic 4:3 ratio, it tells its story in disorientating, shard-like episodes like miserable fragments of a life.
The overriding feel is satire of our world – of the relationship between memory and identity, and what we think those two things are, and of everyday life not really existing without being documented. The traumatic effects of grief. And, of course, our overriding pandemic. But so much of Apples and its meaning is open to alternative interpretations, and this imprints it in your memory – it’s a cult film in the making.
Apples is released on demand on Curzon Home Cinema on 7 May 2021 in the UK.