This quietly satirical and moving first feature film by director and co-writer Christos Nikou, who cut his teeth as an assistant director on Dog tooth, was Greece’s candidacy for the international feature film Oscar at the recent 93rd Academy Awards. A tale of epidemic memory loss, heartache, and possible new beginnings, it’s a deadpan tragicomedy that mixes the playful and the poignant in a way as tasty as a spitter – the bittersweet apples cherished by cider makers as the perfect fuel for fermentation.
Aris Servetalis’ impassive face has a sad form, his physical presence invoking the common specters of Daniel Day-Lewis and Charlie Chaplin. As an amnesia epidemic sweeps across his homeland, his disoriented character, Aris, finds himself unable to remember his name, profession or address. “It happened to him suddenly, like the others”, tells the doctor who examines the “Number 14842”, before placing it in a program intended to rehabilitate people without memory and to which is also registered his new friend (Sofia Georgovassili).
To create new identities, program participants are given a series of quests – instructions for mundane tasks that happen like Impossible mission-taped style messages, requiring photographic proof of completion. Whether it’s a dip in a swimming pool or attending a fancy dress party or a one-night stand, the tasks constitute an album of “memories”, eerily reminiscent of the fake family photographs belonging to the replicants in Blade runner – imitations of “normal” life. The photographs are taken with Polaroid cameras (the box-shaped world of the film is nostalgic analog), but there is a question lurking in the background about the digital images that we have all become addicted to; the cellphone selfies that define who we are in the age of Instagram.
Nikou describes Apples (whose tone somewhat recalls that of Lili HorvÃ¡t Preparations to be together for an unknown period of time) as an âallegorical dramatic comedyâ born out of personal mourning, exploring whether we are all ultimately âjust the sum of all those things we don’t forgetâ. There is a clear echo of the premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Flawless Spirit in Nikou’s description (he cites Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, and Leos Carax as influences), especially in the growing suggestion that amnesia may be part of an intolerable active withdrawal from reality.
Throughout, we see fragments of past lives resurface, as in a charming and heartbreaking scene of people dancing to Let’s Twist Again (âDo you remember whenâ¦?â). As for the title of the film, it takes on even more meaning when a local grocer notices that our antihero’s favorite fruit is “good for the memory”, eliciting a reaction that speaks volumes about his true emotional state.
As with his fellow Greek Weird Wave compatriots Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, Nikou balances depth with absurdity for a startling effect. Scenes of the gangly Servetalis seriously riding a small child’s bicycle alongside strange encounters with modern popular cinema, questions about the logic of horror films (“when they arrived in this strange house with bones and skulls, why did they come in, instead of running away? â) to the Batman identity and a hilarious synopsis of James Cameron’s potted plot Titanic – a moment of pure golden comedy.
Yet it is the mysterious mystery of sadness that resonates most clearly through Nikou’s film, a personality-building meditation that, like all the best ghost stories, combines a nostalgic melancholy with a hint of achievement. of wishes, of lost souls who, in oblivion, try to remember.