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  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Photograph: Curzon

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Playful and melancholy, this sparkling debut could just signal the arrival of a new Yorgos Lanthimos

How do you figure out where to go when you have no clue where you’ve come from? That’s the predicament faced by the amnesiac protagonist in debut filmmaker Christos Nikou’s melancholy yet playful vision of a man cut adrift in an alternate modern-day Athens. Nikou served as assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth and the influence of his fellow Greek has clearly rubbed off – there are clues here as to what Lanthimos’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might look like – but Nikou is no mere impersonator. Apples is less sharp-edged satire, more humanist exploration of the importance of memory.

The man, Aris (Aris Servetalis), is introduced setting out from his chaotic apartment and roaming the city. Soon, he’s found alone on a bus, with no ID and no memory of where he’s come from. He’s taken to hospital and enrolled in a special programme for amnesiacs. He’s clearly no outlier in this dislocated world: randomly crashed cars and billboard ads for memory pills also suggest a society through which amnesia spreads like a contagion. (There’s a subtle sci-fi edge to Nikou’s world-building, though it never calls attention to itself.)

Aris is set up with a new flat, a fresh wardrobe and instructions to record his new life on a Polaroid camera, a device that works like Memento’s tattoos. He’s played by Servetalis with an inscrutable air that sometimes hints at bafflement or a deeper despair, but occasionally blossoms into a childlike glee – as when he pedals about on a tiny kid’s bike, reconnecting with some deeply buried memory.

Close-cropped, luxuriantly bearded and clad in the short-legged trousers provided for him, he wanders the city like a hipster Daniel Day-Lewis, following instructions left for him on cassettes. The effect is of a man parachuted into a life that, like his trousers, doesn’t really fit him.

Shorn of both short- and long-term memory, all he has to work with is the odd sense memory (he loves apples, although the fruit of knowledge doesn’t live up to its billing here) and random recollections (he remembers all the words to Bobby Vinton’s Sealed With a Kiss). But starting afresh, rather than being liberating, is sad and disorientating – an existence not a life – and Nikou’s visual grammar, complete with boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, shallow focus and a blurriness around the frame’s edges, doubles down on that sense of entrapment. 

Yet getting caught up with this unfortunate character is far from the depressing experience it could have been. Nikou’s compassion for his protagonist is clear – the film’s closing dedication even hints at an autobiographical element behind the story – and cinematographer Bartosz Swiniarski’s palette of ochres and oranges is warming rather than chilly.  

Apples is also laced with deadpan wit and a joyfully surrealist streak. A fancy-dress party that Aris is sent to ends with an ambulance driver trying to identify an amnesiac reveller (‘Guys, anyone know Batman?’ he asks in one of the best superhero gags in ages). When the man begins a tentative flirtation with a fellow amnesiac Anna (Sofia Georgovassili, peppier than her hangdog co-star), their road trip comes to an abrupt end when they discover that while she can drive, she has no idea how to stop.  

Is it all meant as a comment on Greece’s relationship with its past, or of a whole world that’s drifted off its moorings? My guess is that Nikou is happy for you to interpret the metaphor however you want – or just to take the whole thing at face value as a portrayal of aching loneliness – because he’s aiming to engage the heart. Apples is a film that manages it in spades. It’s a seriously impressive calling card.

Available to stream in the UK on Curzon Home Cinema May 7.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Christos Nikou
  • Screenwriter:Christos Nikou, Stavros Raptis
  • Cast:
    • Aris Servetalis
    • Sofia Georgovassili
    • Anna Kalaitzidou
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