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Aris attempts to regain his memory by completing a series of human milestones, including riding a tiny two-speed stroller at a skate park, and documenting them with a Polaroid camera.  - WITH KINDNESS DIRTY MOVIES

Courtesy of Dirty Films

Aris attempts to regain his memory by completing a series of human milestones, including riding a tiny two-speed stroller at a skate park, and documenting them with a Polaroid camera.

A gray skyline, an empty couch, lonely bed pillows, a jumble of coffee cups, the antique lace adorning the breast of a woman’s negligee. The first five five-second shots of Christos Nikou apples marches to the staccato beat of what sounds like a drum but – as we discover in the sixth take – is actually the banging of the forehead of a man being deliberately slammed against a wall. For a film openly devoted to the mystery of what goes on in our minds, the terse montage feels eerily appropriate, raising questions that the rest of the narrative slowly and sparingly attempts to answer.

One of the most original, if understated, films of the year, Nikou’s directorial debut relies on the power of the image over ponderous dialogue or flashy close-ups. With no celebrity myth or recognizable backdrop, the film follows Aris (Aris Servetalis), a pensive loner who, after falling asleep on a city bus with a bouquet of flowers, can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. “Where should you have got off?” the driver asks politely. “What’s your name, do you remember?”

Aris is transported by ambulance to the “Neurologic Hospital’s Impaired Memory Unit” and soon finds himself in the unsuspecting company of other amnesiacs, all victims of sudden memory loss, all wearing blue uniforms reminiscent of grandpa’s pajamas. Based on the stunned effect of his doctors – and his new housemates – it appears the entire region is going through a pandemic of lost identity. Unclaimed by relatives, Aris participates in the city’s New Identity Program, which aims to retrain patients so they can forge lasting memories and start a new life.

Actor Aris Servetalis' confused expressions can be as funny as they are haunted.  - WITH KINDNESS DIRTY MOVIES

Courtesy of Dirty Films

Actor Aris Servetalis’ confused expressions can be as funny as they are haunted.

Though taciturn and moody, Servetalis cuts a striking figure — a more elegant, resigned Greek version of a bearded Joaquin Phoenix — and his confused expressions throughout the film can be as funny as they are haunted. Prompted by his medical team to match a picture-perfect picture to the score of Swan Lake, Aris confidently presents a drawing of a man in a sombrero, his eyes sinking in defeat as his answer is quickly marked incorrect.

Housed in his own apartment as part of the hospital program, he is asked to complete a series of human milestones and document them with a Polaroid camera. Aris calmly follows the doctors’ orders, which range from riding a child’s tiny two-speed bike at a skate park to receiving a lap dance at a local strip club, placing each Polaroid in his official scrapbook and creating a chronicle of new memories with pride. Gradually realizing that his new friend and classmate Anna (Sofia Georgovassili) is more concerned with ticking off assigned milestones than building a relationship, Aris finds company in a dying old man whose bedside visits are yet more events to capture and archive. “I’d like a homemade pastry,” the old man confesses as Aris serves him hospital porridge by the spoonful, “like the ones my wife used to make.”

Described by critics as both “esoteric black comedy” and “gentle absurdist drama” (both assessments are accurate), Apple’s refuses to be neatly categorized, as does Boots Riley’s Sorry to bother you, or the poetry of the late John Ashbery. With minimal camera movement and an Academy ratio, the film maintains a quiet stillness at odds with the plot’s seemingly dramatic entries. The conspicuous lack of digital devices, advertising, and screens lends each scene a meditative quality, muting what would otherwise seem like dystopian mass amnesia and lost identity.

The delicious weirdness of Apples could earn Nikou comparisons to Greek auteur filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, whose dog tooth wowed and unsettled in 2009 long before star-studded hits like 2018 The favourite. But when Lanthimos’ dark sense of humor is matched with occasional cruelty, Nikous is imbued with an almost shocking kindness. Through the patient eyes of Aris, we piece together his life before the amnesia that proves to be just as devastating as the sudden disappearance of his memory. At the end of its taut ninety minutes, Apple’s takes on an elegiac tone that reminds us of the incredible gift – and burden – of having a past.

In his letter for Landmark Theaters, addressed to “all the beloved cinephiles of the world,” Nikou implores readers to “return to the theaters and have a chance to move in a dark space with other people.” At its honest core, Apples is a film fully worthy of the big screen; We should be lucky to get a taste of Nikou’s vision in the short time it’s been released.

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