Apples Review: The Courage of Memory
There’s a shot early in Apples when Aris (Aris Servetalis) first loses his memory. He sits on a city bus, light from medical vehicles shining in through the window, alone even as he’s surrounded by the bustle of emergency response. The light tosses an eerie glow over his face, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, deep-set in his face, which lurk back in the shadows, withholding, forever withholding. The eyes are the windows to the soul – or so the cliché goes – and first-time director Christos Nikou deliberately obscures them.
Like Aris, Apples shields its identity for the vast majority of its runtime. The story of one man’s attempts to recover and discover his memory and his life in a society facing a sudden onset of widespread amnesia, the film’s early moments inject droll humor into this exercise in perverse world-building. Aris is given a series of assignments from his doctors in an attempt to forge a new identity, and he’s told to document their completion with an old-school polaroid. There’s subtle but consistent commentary baked into these vignettes, lightly excoriating the electronic memory replacement of 21st century social media. But at first, Nikou has little interest in de-shrouding the mystery of Aris.
It’s difficult to avoid comparisons to fellow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos – he actually worked on Lanthimos’s Dogtooth – but Nikou is a much different filmmaker, prioritizing the underlying melancholy of his absurdist world over the biting satire. If there’s one thing the two share most in common, it can be found in the slightly off-kilter rhythm of Apples: the stilted dialogue that isn’t quite like language as we know it, the doctors bouncing along to music even as their patient struggles to forge connections, the awkward gestures and postures at bars, strip clubs, and Halloween parties. Like in Lanthimos’s The Lobster, this works in Apples' favor, with both films relying on their director’s singular quirkiness to help build a world that’s supposed to resemble ours, except tilted about 9 degrees off its axis.
When Apples further opens up, Nikou finds his own identity as a director. Aris crosses paths with Anna, a woman slightly further ahead on the Living Life Assignments trajectory than he is, and he glimpses snippets of his pointless future. And as Aris looks ahead, Nikou spares the occasional moment to glance backward, unfurling the past piece-by-piece, turning Aris from a symbolic totem into a three-dimensional character. Nikou deftly manages a series of tonal shifts, relying on a hauntingly melancholy score by Alexander Voulgaris (“The Boy”) to weave in the impact of the delicate relationship between trauma, memory, and self.
The alternating despair and elation of loneliness makes for a stuttering series of stand-out scenes, from Aris slowly letting loose on the dance floor to an immediately recognizable late night sojourn to a local diner, but Apples transcends its individual parts. It manages to conclude on a note of such aching, yearning acceptance that it’s difficult to remember much of what came before its final moments. But remember we must. Otherwise, who are we?