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On the opening day of the Venice film festival, the arrivals are struggling to get their bearings. Things don’t work the way they did in the past. There’s a booking system to contend with and a mask policy to observe. We don’t know the names of many directors on the programme. We can’t recognise our friends and colleagues behind their myriad face coverings. It’s the 77th edition but it almost feels like the first. The new normal is weird; it’s going to take some getting used to.
If the Venice selectors were looking for a fitting film to open this year’s Orizzonti sidebar, they could hardly have done better than Christos Nikou’s splendidly poignant and creepy Apples. As luck or fate would have it, this is a pandemic drama of sorts, spotlighting an outbreak of amnesia that afflicts the people of Greece. With a neat stylistic flourish, Nikou sets his tale in an ahistoric, analogue Athens, modern on the surface yet seemingly in thrall to cassette decks and instant cameras. At a time when memories are wiped and histories erased, physical media perhaps provide a crucial link with the past.
The latest patient to be admitted to the “Disturbed Memory Department” is Aris (Aris Servetalis), aka Number 14842: a gaunt, bearded man who looks like Daniel Day-Lewis playing the role of Vincent Van Gogh. Aris is initially told to sit tight and wait for his family to claim him. But as the days tick by, the suspicion grows that his family has forgotten him just as completely as he’s forgotten them. Slowly, steadily, the city appears to be losing its connective tissue. Cases are increasing; the people are being rubbed clean.
Nikou previously worked as an assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth and he clearly came away infected. Apples, his debut feature, has the same deadpan sensibility and a similar line in mordant black comedy. Its action, moreover, unfolds across a series of unglamorous non-spaces (abandoned swimming baths; forlorn city parks) that might have already cropped up in Lanthimos’s 2011 film Alps. At one stage Aris rides a bus to the end of the line, right into the hinterlands, because he can’t remember his home address.
I’ll admit to having a low resistance to – or perhaps a high tolerance for – the so-called Greek Weird Wave, with its reams of affectless dialogue, its unexplained absurdities and its depiction of a planet a shuffle-step removed from our own. But what prevents Apples from becoming a simple Lanthimos copycat is its comparative kindness and its abiding direction of travel. At the neurological hospital, the patients are eventually coaxed on to the “New Identity” programme, installed in fresh homes and encouraged to construct a kind of flat-pack personal history. Where a lesser director might have been tempted to point his tale towards darkness, Nikou – to his credit – adopts a more tender approach.
Paired up with Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), a fellow amnesiac, Aris duly embarks on a stumbling route through an accelerated second childhood. This in turn is followed by a whistle-stop adolescence. If Nikou never quite liberates them from the shackles of the movie’s high-concept premise, he at least makes them care about these people and the new lives that they’re building. Apples aid memory. Music throws a lifeline.
Towards the end of the film, Aris and Anna set forth on a jaunt out of town. They’re side-by-side and briefly happy – fumbling for the words of a song they can almost recall, at the wheel of a car that might even be theirs.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Apples review – splendidly poignant and creepy pandemic drama | Film