As part of New York City’s New Directors/New Films 2021 festival, Apples screened virtually and in-person at the Lincoln Center.
A city endures a strange pandemic – a spread of amnesia that seems to affect a person at once with no forewarning. A man wanders through the “recovery program,” an experiment conjured by doctors to restore memories of those afflicted. Such is the backdrop of Apples, the endearing and timely debut feature of writer-director Christos Nikou. Greece’s entry for best foreign feature at this year’s Academy Awards, Apples had previously caught the eye of actress Cate Blanchett, who’s production company Dirty Films joined as executive producer in late 2020.
Repeated sequences shape the film’s narrative arc – much like the way memories are processed, changing slightly with each playback in the mind. The film begins as a character study. We watch our protagonist Aris – played by the austere and distinctively lanky Aris Servetalis – complete a series of tasks intended to regenerate memories. These prescriptions are announced from a cassette tape; Aris must capture each moment on a polaroid camera. Ranging from tedious to bizarre, the tasks share a common goal of unearthing the sort of primal, physical sensations that form our earliest memories. We’re witnesses to a progression of milestones; Aris rides a bike, dances with little inhibition, jumps off a diving board, initiates sex – crashes a car.
Like many pandemic-era films, Apples is an exploration of humanity under desolate circumstances. Yet Nikou veers from a version of pure dystopia and instead infuses the story with tragicomic elements, reminiscent of his previous collaborations with fellow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. Particularly humorous is the way Nikou chooses to depict doctors, as authorial figures disguising themselves with friendly advances, dictating their patient’s care with a twinge of infantilized teasing. Nikou positions the deeply sad and ironic misfortune of those most vulnerable in our society as a symptom of a greater negligence – or thoughtlessness – that plagues the nature of how we relate to each other and view ourselves in the context of those relations.
While Nikou threads a simple storyline, he masterfully dissects rather enigmatic concepts such as memory and identity. Each task Aris completes serves as a portal through which we are drawn closer to him. In layering in semblances of Aris’s past self, we come to understand that he may have more agency in this recovery process than we first thought.
The story at the heart of Apples implies that memory encapsulates not only what we recollect, but also what we actively choose to forget. As such, we watch Aris begin to remember what he once desired to un-remember. Apples embodies Nikou’s choice to encounter the pain of loss – and often inexplicable evocations of past experiences – head-on, exposing what comes at the price of seeking true self-recognition.