Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon May 03, 2021 4:32 pm 
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Looking for a past, a present, and a future in an amnesiac world

Mention has been made of the Greek Weird Wave and Nikou worked with Yourgos Lanthimos on Dogtooth, but he has his own voice in this philosophical sci-fi film, and it's a humanistic one. Yes, this is a kind of pandemic setting, or more like an epidemic, of amnesia, in Athens. But the focus isn't at all on a collective event, which is only background. Mainly we are interested in Aris (Aris Servetalis), aka Number 14842, a gloomy bearded man, who is found on a bus at the end of the line having forgotten where he was going, and his name, and everything else. This is a familiar situation, it turns out: he's taken to the hospital's Disturbed Memory Department where there are plenty like him.

After days or weeks pass and no family members claim him, he's set up to build new memories of his own, supplied with an austere, empty apartment, and a woman in charge of the unclaimed and her bearded, bossy cohort give him instructions delivered to him in his mailbox periodically on cassette tapes. Dutifully following these, he does things like go to bars, buy apples, dance, have anonymous sex, ride a bike (nobody forgets how to do that, remember) and - essential to the program - takes Polaroid photos of himself doing these various things, thus accumulating new "memories" that he puts in a snapshot album.

Also he meets a woman at a movie, Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), who's amnesiac too, in the same program. She has more Polaroids, and thus appears to be a little ahead of him. On the other hand he seems to be getting real memories back maybe better than she is and, after all, this is a pretty Mickey Mouse program they're in anyway. One big thing is that he's quite a good cook. He knows how. Oddly however we mostly see him only eating apples, though one day he switches to oranges when the grocer says they're said to stimulate memory.

On a night out at a club, following a taped instruction, with Anna, he gradually starts dancing, and gets better and better. It's "The Twist." (This film is determinedly retro, and not at all realistic. The way Servetalis does this gradual dance reawakening is hilarious and nicely modulated. ) He seems to avoid chances for sex with Anna. Maybe he just doesn't like her; or maybe he is remembering somebody else, someone important and real. Another effort is to find emotional memories by attending to the mortally ill at a hospital and then going to their memorial services, and this leads to a memorable surprise.

The simple, golden-brown-toned, boxy-formated, warmly austere way this film is presented contributes to a very specific mood, suggesting when you've got nothing you've still, after all, damned well got something. Somewhere in there is your humanity. This is the quality that most appeals about Apples, though it is sometimes undermined and loses pace midway due to a sallow, slack quality, expressed directly in physical poses and facial expressions adopted a lot by Servetalis early on. This down-at-the-mouth-ness links the film more with George Orwell than Charlie Kaufman. Sequencing of events can also seem a little random at times. But these are small reservations. Apples is distinctive and works. Nikou is a significant new talent with a story to tell and a sureness about telling it. This is a new angle on the existential modern dilemma.

Apples/μήλα, (Mila) 91 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2020. Twenty other important international festivals are listed including Toronto, Zurich, Hamburg, Chicago, Mill Valley, AFI, Tokyo and Miami. Screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021). Metacritic: 81%.

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