Is who we are just a collection of memories and experiences? How much do these memories impact our being? Is it possible to create a new “us” by creating new memories and cutting out the tragic parts of our lived experience? This is what Greek writer/director Christos Nikou explores in his feature directorial debut. “Apples” is a somber look at how we try to anesthetize our pain and forget parts of us to deal with grief and loss.
Apples revolves around a middle-aged Aris (Aris Servetalis) who leaves his apartment one day and is hit with a sudden case of amnesia — apparently, in this world, there is a global pandemic of sudden onset amnesia (how fitting that this story uses the narrative device of a global pandemic given the current pandemic we’re living through). Aris goes to a hospital where after a few days, no relatives come to claim him, so he embarks on a new experimental “New Identity Program” after failing the memory recovery tests (it’s heartbreaking to watch his disappointment as his brain betrays him). In this program, doctors (whose methods are unconventional and kind of weird) have the patients go through a series of challenges that they must document in a photo album — things from our childhood, things that scare us, making friends, etc. The “challenges” to create new memories (and thus a new identity) include things like the mundane riding a bike to the more involved car crash or a one-night stand.
Aris is given a chance to start over and create a new him. Although he is mainly alone and in isolation, the forced social interactions are almost comical. Through little dialogue and mainly facial expressions (or the lack thereof), we begin to grow an emotional connection to Aris and his deadpan delivery. As he goes through the challenges and begins to build his backstory, he finds he has an affinity for apples and begins a friendship with his local grocer.
Throughout his journey, he has fleeting moments of recollection that he seems to run away from. Along the way, he meets Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), a fellow amnesia patient going through the program. She invites him to a club one evening, and he feels that he is building a genuine connection with her. But he later finds it was really just because of the challenges. One day while going to replenish his supply of apples, Aris learns that apples are good for memory — he immediately switches to eating oranges, giving us an inkling that things may not be what they seem is something that Aris is actively trying to forget.
The last challenge is the most complex and enlightening — Aris must befriend a dying patient in the hospital, go to their funeral and get invited to stay with a family member afterward. It is while he is completing this task that we find out Aris’s secret. We often try to forget to deal with our pain and loss, but is that the right way to cope? Is there a right way? Can we really forget? “Apples is another surreal look at memory and grief, just like Wander Darkly, another film playing during the festival. Memory and how we deal with grief is always ripe subject matter that makes viewers question their preconceived notions and theories.
It really gets us thinking. Can we forget parts of us without losing ourselves? Nikou does a solid job of writing and directing an opaque film that really pulls us in makes us connect with the characters and their story. Visually captivating and the superb performance by Servetalis, as a seemingly naive man who is clearly hiding something right under the surface, makes this film memorable and phantasmagoric.