A gray horizon line, an empty sofa, solitary pillows, a jumble of coffee cups, the antique lace adorning the bust of a woman’s negligee. The first five five-second shots of Christos Nikou Apples march to the jerky rhythm of what sounds like a drum but – as we discover in the sixth shot – is actually the thud of a man’s forehead deliberately banging against a wall. For a film overtly devoted to the mystery of what goes on in our minds, the terse editing feels oddly on point, throwing up questions that the rest of the narrative slowly and sparingly seeks to resolve.
One of the most original, if understated, films of the year, Nikou’s directorial debut relies on the power of image above heavy dialogue or showy close-ups. Devoid of celebrity mythos or discernible setting, the film follows Aris (Aris Servetalis), a pensive loner who, after falling asleep on a city bus with a bouquet of flowers, can’t remember who he is or who he is. where he comes from. “Where were you supposed to get off?” the driver asks softly. “What’s your name, do you remember?”
Transported by ambulance to the “Department of Disturbed Memory of the Neurological Hospital”, Aris soon finds himself in the company of other distraught amnesiacs, each victim of sudden memory loss, each dressed in a blue uniform that looks like a grandpa pajamas. Based on the bewildered affect of his doctors — and his new roommates — it seems the entire region is going through a pandemic of lost identity. Unclaimed by relatives, Aris is enrolled in the city’s New Identity program, which aims to retrain patients to make lasting memories and start a new life.
Although taciturn and nervous, Servetalis has a striking figure – a more elegant and resigned Greek version of a bearded Joaquin Phoenix – and his confused expressions throughout the film can be as funny as they are anguished. Asked by his medical team to match a picture book image to the Swan Lake score, Aris confidently presents a drawing of a man in a sombrero, his eyes widening in defeat when his answer is quickly marked as incorrect. .
Placed in his own apartment as part of the hospital program, he is asked to complete a series of human steps and document them with a Polaroid camera. Aris calmly follows doctors’ orders, which range from riding a child’s tiny two-speed through a skate park to receiving a lap dance at a local strip club, placing every Polaroid in his scrapbook. official and forming a chronicle of new memories to be proud of. Gradually realizing that his new friend and “New Identity” classmate, Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), is more invested in checking assigned milestones than building a relationship, Aris finds companionship with an old man. dying whose visits to the bedside are even more events to capture and archive. “I’d like some homemade pastry,” the old man confides as Aris serves him spoonfuls of hospital porridge, “like the ones my wife used to make.”
Dubbed by critics both an “esoteric dark comedy” and a “soft absurd drama” (both ratings are true), Apples denies neat categorization in the same way Boots Riley’s sorry to disturb you, or the poetry of the late John Ashbery. With minimal camera movement and an Academy ratio, the film maintains a quiet stillness at odds with the plot’s seemingly dramatic stakes. The stark lack of digital devices, commercials, and screens lends each scene a meditative quality, tempering what would otherwise seem like dystopian mass amnesia and lost identity.
The delightful weirdness of Apples could earn Nikou comparisons to Greek author Yorgos Lanthimos, whose dog tooth impressed and disturbed in 2009 long before star-studded hits such as 2018 Favorite. But if Lanthimos’ dark sense of humor comes at the cost of occasional cruelty, Nikou’s is imbued with an almost shocking kindness. Through Aris’ patient eyes, we piece together her life before amnesia, which proves to be just as devastating as her memory’s abrupt disappearance. At the end of its tense ninety minutes, Apples strikes an elegiac tone that reminds us of the incredible gift – and burden – of having a past to begin with.
In his letter for Landmark Theatres, which Nikou addresses to “all beloved moviegoers around the world”, he implores readers to “return to theaters and give a chance to be moved to a dark room with other people. “. At its core, Apples is a movie entirely worthy of the silver screen; we should count ourselves lucky to get a taste of Nikou’s vision during his brief period of mainstream release.