This first satirical and unexpected feature film from director and co-writer Christos Nikou, who cut his teeth as an assistant director on Dogtooth, was Greece’s entry for the Oscar for International Feature Film at the recent 93rd Academy Awards. A story of epidemic memory loss, heartache and possible new beginnings, it’s an unmoved tragicomedy that mixes the playful and the poignant in a way as tasty as a spitter – the bittersweet apples cherished by cider makers like the perfect fuel for fermentation.
Aris Servetalis, with the impassive face, makes a dismal figure, his physical presence invoking the common specters of Daniel Day-Lewis and Charlie Chaplin. As a surge of amnesia crosses his homeland, his bewildered character, Aris, finds himself unable to remember his name, profession or address. “It happened to him suddenly, like the others,” says the doctor who examines “number 14842”, before placing him in a program intended to rehabilitate those who have lost their memory and to which his new friend (Sofia Georgovassili ) is also listed.
To create new identities, program participants are given a series of quests – instructions for mundane tasks that happen like Mission impossible-recorded style messages, requiring photographic proof of completion. Whether it’s diving into a swimming pool, attending a fancy dress party, and having a one-night stand, the tasks constitute an album of “memories”, eerily reminiscent of the fake family photographs belonging to the replicants. of Blade Runner – imitations of “normal” life. The photographs are taken on Polaroid cameras (the box-shaped world of film is nostalgically analog), but there’s a question lurking in the background about the digital images we’ve all become addicted to; the cellphone selfies that define who we are in the Instagram age.
Nikou describes Apples (which, in tone, reminds a little of the style of Lili Horvát Preparations to be together for an unknown period of time) as an “allegorical dramatic comedy” born out of personal mourning, exploring whether we are all ultimately “just the sum of all those things we don’t forget”. 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 active retreat from intolerable reality.
Throughout, we see fragments of old lives resurface, as in a lovely, heart-wrenching scene of people dancing to Let’s Twist Again (“Do you remember when…?”). As for the film’s title, it takes on added meaning when a local grocer notices that our anti-hero’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” Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, Nikou balances depth and absurdism for a striking effect. Scenes of the skinny Servetalis seriously riding a small child’s bicycle alongside bizarre encounters with modern popular cinema, questions about the logic of horror films (“when they got to that strange house with bones and skulls , why did they come in, instead of running away? ”) to the Batman identity and a hilarious synopsis of James Cameron’s potted plot Titanic – a pure golden moment of comedy.
Yet it’s the eerie mystery of sadness that resonates most clearly through Nikou’s film, a personality-building meditation that, like all the best ghost stories, combines a melancholy melancholy with a hint of achievement. of wishes, of lost souls who, forgetting, try to remember.