Venice 2020: Bleak Greek Drama 'Apples' is Melancholic Yet Tender
by Alex Billington
September 2, 2020
There's nothing like watch a good film that leaves you with that warm embrace of cinema. Apples was my first screening of the 2020 Venice Film Festival, an interesting experience considering we're all wearing masks and sitting at least 1 meter (or ~3.3 feet) away from everyone else in the theater. But I'm happy to report it's an absolute delight. Apples is the feature directorial debut of a Greek filmmaker named Christos Nikou, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stavros Raptis. Nikou is a bit of protégé of famed Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos; he worked as the second assistant director on Dogtooth years ago. Now he's ready to make his mark as a filmmaker in his own and his feature debut is worthy of our admiration. It's a very tender, understanding film that reminds us to live in our own way, no matter how hard that might be.
Apples is set amidst a worldwide pandemic that causes sudden amnesia. Aris (played by Aris Servetalis) is riding a bus and suddenly wakes up not knowing who he is or what's going on. After being diagnosed at the hospital, he's enrolled in a "new identity" program designed to help unclaimed patients restart their lives. He is assigned simple tasks that mimic regular life, and after completing them he must take a photo with a Polaroid camera. From what I can tell (because there are going to be different interpretations), the film acts as nuanced commentary on modern life and how we're all told how to live, rather than learning to live. To have a "regular" life we must go do these things that everyone else must also do, take a selfie, and record it as a new memory in our book. Rinse and repeat. What's the next thing to do to continue your "regular life"?
At its core, Apples is a very somber, very bleak Greek film about amnesia and selective memory. Dig deeper and it's a film about how hard it is to live a unique life. Nikou's filmmaking is distant, but not too distant. It's really sweet, low key filmmaking. No big movements or shocking moments, just a tenderness focused on Aris. Clearly he's suffering, not just with amnesia, but something deep inside of him is broken or missing. His subtle performance is almost emotionless, but if you look closely, all the emotions are there. They're just hidden beneath the surface. A dash of Her, a sprinkle of The Lobster, with heaps of Greek bleakness, the film plays like a guide to how to be yourself for uber-depressed people. But it never mocks or makes fun of depression, nor does it make the audience feel petty or weak for being unable to break free from the pattern of "regular life". With calmness and affection, it encourages us to reflect and perhaps even learn from Aris.
It does have a few minor flaws that aren't even worth mentioning. There's a dog in one pivotal scene that I thought might show up again later, but never does. As powerful as the ending is, I was hoping there might be a few more scenes about how dull and repetitive things are if you're just doing things to take a photo to put in a book. But less is more. And that's where Nikou succeeds - creating a lovely, subtle film that has so much to say without having to actually say it in dialogue. There's limitless compassion in simplywatching him go out and experience the world without knowing who he is or what his life was like before all of this. Topped off with a lovely score from Alexander Voulgaris, the film won me over and will stay in my heart well after the festival. And hopefully it'll connect many viewers and remind them to stay true to themselves.
Alex's Venice 2020 Rating: 9 out of 10
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