In Greece during the late 2000s, an unorthodox cinematic movement ignited in the wake of the country’s financial crisis. Coined as “Greek Weird Wave”, the characteristics of these “weird” films were the strange and perverse narratives, unusual imagery and unsubtle undertones that reflected upon the country’s instability and decaying society.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the poster boy of this subgenre is Yorgos Lanthimos. With his earliest works such as Kinetta, Dogtooth and Alps taking inspiration from the country’s collapse, Lanthimos helped create a niche brand of bizarro independently-made films.
The distinctiveness of Lanthimos’ films helped skyrocket his filmmaking career into the stratosphere. Dogtooth won the Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011. Lanthimos‘ next three films, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite saw him working with much larger budgets, bigger studios and distributors, as well as A-list actors. All met with critical acclaim and winning several accolades during film awards season, Lanthimos‘ niche brand had become extremely fashionable.
Other prominent staples of Greek Weird Wave are Athina Rachel Tsangari‘s Attenberg, Strella (A Woman’s Way) from Panos H. Koutras and more recently, Babis Makridis‘ laugh-out-loud hilarious Pity.
A decade on from landmark the idiosyncratic Dogtooth, a new participant joins the catalogue of unique films from the Southeastern Europe country. In his feature-length debut comes Christos Nikou‘s Apples.
Amidst a worldwide pandemic (not the one we’re currently living in) that causes sudden amnesia, a middle-aged man finds himself enrolled in a recovery program designed to help its patients claim new identities. Where Lanthimos’ riotous work focuses more on its absurdist narratives and dark humour, Nikou favours a more dramatic approach. The end result is undeniably one of the most touching and provocative films you will see in 2021.
Starring Aris Servetalis as the films key character, Apples focuses on a Philip K. Dick-esque dystopic alternative reality where amnesia is commonplace, plaguing the minds of thousands civilians. A man (Servetalis) who is found confused on a bus with no documentation to prove his identity is taken to the neurological department of a nearby hospital. It is quickly established that he too has been attacked by the amnesia pandemic sweeping through the Greek landscape. He is unable to perform simple cognitive and memory tasks. With no identity, Servetalis‘ character’s name is never revealed in the runtime. Instead, at the hospital he is referred to as patient “14842”.
With nobody being able to identify or taking responsibility of him, 14842 is enrolled in a program setup by the neurological department that helps those create a new life for those with no identity. 14842 is given an apartment, clothes and as much financial support as he needs. In his aid to rebuild his life and create a new identity, 14842 is given everyday tasks to complete which he must photograph to document them in order to create new memories. These duties are as simplistic as riding a bike and frequenting nightclubs to make new friends. Undertakings that we often take for granted.
Where the prowess of Nikou‘s film shines at its brightest is in the mundane assignments 14842 is given to complete. His how-to-live tasks serve as a metaphor for our under-appreciation to create enduring memories of our own. How we are blissfully unaware to our ability to create those memories and how we are easily influenced to live our lives according to those around us. On demand, 14842 is able to ride a bike with ease showing no difficulty remembering how to do so, yet the disease seemingly won’t allow him to create new everlasting memories of his own.
One of Apples‘ most gripping scenes is with 14842 seen singing along to the near-entirety of a song in English on a car journey with no difficulty whatsoever. Why is it he can remember the lyrics to a song he heard prior to him contracting the disease and be able to sing them in a language that isn’t his native tongue, but can’t remember when or where he first heard it? It raises further questions of, are we shaped by our memories? And if we lose or block those memories, what is left of us? The complexity of amnesia is portrayed poignantly in Nikou‘s feature and Servetalis‘ skeletal deadpan performance.
During a pivotal scene in which he is told by a greengrocer that apples are help reduce memory loss, rather perplexingly, 14842 chooses to replace a bagful of his favourite fruit, instead for oranges – earlier of which he claims he doesn’t enjoy. It casts doubt on just how much he has genuinely forgotten. Why would he choose to live the life where memories are made for him? Does he choose to forget past memories by opting for the oranges over the apples? What does he want to forget?
Perhaps the most emotive scene(s) that take place in Apples are after 14842 meets Anna (Sofia Georgovassili) during a night out at the cinema. She too is in recovery and suffers the same affliction as him; unable to remember vital fragments of her past nor be enveloped in new ones. Meeting every day to perform tasks together, their friendship begins to blossom. One night they go to a nightclub together to let loose and be free of any set tasks. On the dance floor, they both “get lost in the moment” and are fully immersed into there and then. In what I found to be similarly weighty dance scene as that of in Paweł Pawlikowski‘s Cold War, a space is created for the audience for us to dive deep into the intimacy and the intricacy of that particular moment in time for the two characters. It’s tear-jearkingly beautiful and tender; an unequivocal uplifter and possibly one of my favourite dance scenes of any film ever.
All of this compelling, multidimensional substance is told in the 4:3 aspect ratio – again similarly to that of Cold War and Łukasz Żal. In its boxy appearance, Apples tightly packs a lot into its shots. From the discreet set pieces to the minimalist performances, Bartosz Świniarski‘s arresting cinematography paints vivid pictures. In each claustrophobic frame, you can feel the assortment of emotions from those on-screen and its arcane subtext. Apples has the the ability to make you smile, make you laugh and make you cry both tears of joy and sadness.
The narrow mount of Apples is soundtracked by a haunting score. In the films closing moments and well on through the end credits, tears beamed down my face due to the finesse of Alexander Voulgaris‘ effective piano and vocal arrangements. Just thinking about those climatic shots send shivers down my spine. I sincerely hope these compositions see their own release one day. They are absolutely mesmerising.
So unlike its luminaries, Apples dials down on those controversial and sadistic themes that Lanthimos helped catapult into the mainstream. Instead, Nikou sets himself apart from the stereotypical weirdness by creating a thought-provoking exploration in subterranean human experience that offers no conclusive answers. It is left wide open for our own interpretation. Its varying possibilities will have you scratching your head in bewilderment. One thing that is conclusive in Nikou‘s film however is the significance of capturing, cherishing, losing and repressing memories. In equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, Apples yields the robustness to linger long, long after the end credits begin to roll.
Comedy, Drama | Greece, 2020 | 15 | English Subtitles | May 2021 (UK – TBC) | Curzon Artificial Eye Films | Dir.Christos Nikou | Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassili, Anna Kalaitzidou