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apples review
A man succumbs to an epidemic of amnesia and is assigned a series of tasks to help him reintegrate into society.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christos Nikou

Starring: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovasili, Anna Kalaitzidou, Argiris Bakirtzis

apples poster

I once spent a week confined to a hospital bed with a curious condition that baffled doctors. While the puzzled, worried looks on the hospital staff left me wondering if I was ever going see the outside world again, on aggregate I enjoyed my time there. It was nice to get a week away from a job I despised and to be looked after by others, as though I had temporarily regressed to childhood, freed from any adult responsibilities and concerns.

Aris (Aris Servetalis), the protagonist of Christos Nikou's blackly comic pandemic drama Apples, finds himself in a similar situation. Waking up on a bus that has reached the end of its line, Aris is unable to tell the driver at which stop he had originally intended to disembark. It seems Aris is but the latest victim of an epidemic of amnesia sweeping across Athens.

apples review

To cope with the epidemic, the authorities have set up special clinics where victims are studied by doctors and asked to perform a variety of memory tests. The hope is that family members will spot their loved ones' mugshots on a database and pick them up, but nobody arrives to claim Aris and so he is released into civilisation, given an apartment and a set of tasks delivered on audio cassettes every few days.

These tasks begin simply enough – taking a ride on a bike, attending a costume party, watching a horror movie at the cinema – but progress to the absurd and intrusive, with Aris asked to drive a car until he crashes it, grope a lap-dancer and befriend a dying man. All such tasks must be documented through Polaroid pictures (the drama takes place in a version of Athens that seems stuck in '90s fashion and technology).

apples review

The drudgery of Aris's routine is broken up when he meets Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), a fellow amnesiac. The two team up to complete their tasks, eventually leading to a romantic and ultimately sexual coupling. But with Anna a few stages ahead of Aris in her tasks, the latter begins to question their relationship. Does Anna have genuine feelings for him or is she just using him as a way to complete her tasks more easily? Are they both being manipulated by the health authorities, who are attempting to mould them into some reductive idea of the average well-rounded human?

[Mild spoilers to follow] While Aris faces such questions, the viewer finds themselves querying the validity of his condition. At one point a dog approaches Aris in a park and he seems to know its name. When the animal's owner arrives, Aris suspiciously does a runner. He also seems to know a lot of songs off by heart. Most tellingly, Aris drops his habit of munching on apples when a grocer remarks how the fruit can help with memory. Is Aris faking his amnesia? Or does he genuinely have the condition but is unhappy with the memories that are gradually returning, and the old life he may have to revisit?

apples review

Nikou was formerly the assistant director to Yorgos Lanthimos, and on the surface at least, Apples slots neatly into the movement known as the Greek Weird Wave. It's heavy on the absurdism we associate with the movement, but where it stands apart is in its lack of cynicism. While they provide more than their share of laughs, GWW films tend to leave you wanting a shower afterwards, such is their grim view of humanity. Apples refreshingly mines such absurdism while ultimately telling an optimistic story. It's a sort of reversal of the Pinocchio fable, with Aris a "real boy" who opts to become a puppet to avoid the sort of pain life can often inflict on us.

The titular fruit has proven a metaphor for sentience ever since Adam took a bite out of one in the garden of Eden. Is it better to remain innocent and free of hurt or to embrace the sometimes unfair balance of pain and pleasure that makes up a life? Apples suggests that no matter how rotten things may seem, there's always a fresh apple left in the bowl. Go on, take a bite.

Apples is on MUBI UK now.

2021 movie reviews