Apples: A memorably weird Greek fable about amnesia

Bleak, deceptively rich comedy about what happens when identity is stripped away

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Director: Christos Nikou
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Argiris Bakirtzis, Anna Kalaitzidou
Runing Time: 1 hr 30 mins

In a recent interview Christos Nikou sought to put some distance between his debut feature and emanations of the Greek “weird wave” such as Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg. One thinks of those heavy metal bands that used to occasionally argue that they were only obliquely connected to the genre. “Iron Axe are really more of a hard blues outfit.” That sort of thing.

It must be irritating to suffer automatic filing into the nearest convenient box, but anyone familiar with those films – even those unaware that Nikou worked as script supervisor on Dogtooth – will immediately detect the linking tendrils. Once again, we are in a world that has been skewed significantly towards the weird. The humour is chilled down to absolute zero. The over-riding pessimism can’t entirely blank out the belief in human perseverance.

Not for the first time in the past year and a bit, we observe how a film accidentally chimes with the concerns of our Covid era. (Comparisons kick up with those “Watergate films” – The Parallax View, The Conversation – conceived long before the break-in happened.) Apples – which was awarded best film by the Dublin Film Critics Circle at the recent Dublin International Film Festival – deposits us in a pandemic that randomly imposes amnesia on blameless citizens. Our hero Aris (Aris Servetalis) gets on a bus and, before reaching his destination, drifts into the pervasive sense of forgetfulness. He doesn’t know where he was going. He can’t say why he was going there. The unfortunate fellow ends up at the busy Disturbed Memory Department, where he is taught strategies for survival in his new traceless existence.

Apples has something to say about our contemporary habit of placing audiovisual documentation where memories used to be. The habit was up and running when, following the proliferation of cheap video cameras, people became used to seeing their most emotional moments first through viewfinders. Now Instagram and Facebook are woven unendingly through the modern life journey. Aris is advised to attempt various everyday activities and record his experiences on a Polaroid camera. The photographs become the memories, just as, in real life, our first recollection of significant events is now the little film we uploaded to Facebook.

That line of analogy is, however, just one component in a deceptively rich entertainment. Throughout the film, we are encouraged to ponder whether, if stripped of mental connections to our earlier life, we would still be the same person. If every inmate in the Disturbed Memory Department follows the instructions, will they all end up with minute variations on one model personality? A more sentimental film would come to the conclusion that our inner glories would eventual reassert themselves and re-establish the great variety of human existence. The Weird Wave (sorry, Christos) isn’t playing that game. The current Greek Odyssey moves from uncertainty to greater uncertainty. This singular move, shot in a 4:3 ratio that reminds us of those Polaroid photographs, wanly coloured as snaps in an old album, whispers its uneasiness throughout.

Yet this is not a miserable yarn. As Aris wonders through an altered world – more altered even than our own – he encounters a parade of amusing absurdities. The title comes from one of the few aspects of the old life that remains: his taste for apples. “I don’t remember if I like them,” somebody else says. Figures in fancy dress add to the surrealism. A trip to the cinema has some fun with an experience many of us miss.

Apples works both as an unintended record of the times and as a wry comment on the ancient human condition. Dare we call it “memorable”?

Video on demand from May 7th