Director Christos Nikou's debut feature Apples finds itself a part of the recent Greek wave of odd satires spearheaded by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Favorite). The comparison is hard to miss as Nikou was Lanthimos's 1st assistant director. While the movement has been characterized by cold exteriors and violent outbursts, Apples is a far sweeter affair.
In the not-so-distant past, or maybe some weird parallel universe, a pandemic has hit Greece causing sudden amnesia. We are introduced to Aris (Aris Servetalis), a middle-aged victim who is failing to regain his memories. He is found on a bus with no family to come to get him. One of the few things he holds onto is the enjoyment of apples. The illness has left him both without personal traits and a lack of how to live in the world. The metaphor of apples is a powerful comment on what remains at the core of any one person.
Shot in a boxy aspect ratio and lit in muted tones, Apples is as visually dull as an existence without memories. It is a strong choice that fits the film well. Aris is drafted into a government program that helps him to learn how to live again. He receives instructions on tasks he must carry out and document with a Polaroid camera. Many of the tasks are simple daily actions such as riding a bike or going to a party. However, others begin to push Aris to confront his emotions. A task around a one-night stand has a particular emotional resonance for him.
Apples works best in these vignettes, little moments that take on the absurdity of documenting life rather than simply living it. A scene around a lap dance has a particularly hollow ring to it that shows how little joy Aris is getting from the act but also feels obligated to document it.
The film takes on a bit more of a narrative thrust when Aris meets Anna (Sofia Georgovassili) while seeing a screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The meet-cute is around them having to take Polaroids of the act. As their relationship develops, it becomes clear that neither character may be truly afflicted by the pandemic.
Apples can't seem to sustain the narrative as it moves into a deflated final act. While the film is full of insightful moments, the overall effect lacks clarity. Perhaps that is also what makes Apples stand out from the more pointed and graphic films coming out of Greece. Servetalis is consistently compelling as Aris, giving him internal angst while having to keep so much muted about the performance. The performance comes to a cathartic moment when Aris dances with abandon to The Twist. At this moment, Apples gives an emotional climax that the narrative never finds.