In a post-COVID-19 world, ruminating upon memories seems like an everyday occasion—reflecting on the ways that that civilization functioned before the impact of an unforeseen global pandemic that robbed the globe of its perceived normality. Therefore, whether it takes the form of Steven Soderbergh’s bureaucratic procedural “Contagion” or Trey Edward Shults’ soul-crushing horror-thriller “It Comes at Night,” films that dive into the personal effects of worldwide diseases have adopted a renewed resonance over the past year. Similarly, Christos Nikou’s debut feature “Apples” could not have been released at a more perfect time, which, despite its timely unveiling, harbors an endearing timeless quality to its rumination on identity, memory, and rebirth.
In a world mired by an amnesia-inducing disease, Aris (Aris Servetalis) wanders around the city. Nameless. Soft-spoken. Alone. After he’s infected with the virus, the everyman is indoctrinated into a state-sanctioned rehabilitation program, in which he is instructed to complete a designated set of tasks via cassette tapes and ordered to photograph experiences—such as learning to ride a bike, going to a party, driving a car—with a polaroid camera. After meeting Anna (Sofia Georgovasili), a woman embedded in the same recovery program, Aris begins to question whether the road to reclaiming his identity will be as simple as he thought.
Despite its dower subject matter, “Apples” arrives bearing gifts of uplifting encouragement and pensive meditations on the nature of the human experience. Equipped with deadpan humor and numbing silence, Nikou’s philosophically minded dramedy strives to create conversation as much as it actively attempts to entertain. Familiarizing oneself with the director’s connections to Yorgos Lanthimos—Nikou previously worked as second assistant director on “Dogtooth”—might prepare you for a derivative carbon copy of Lanthimos’ trademarks, but rest assured, “Apples” flaunts its own brand of offbeat charisma.
Yes, a shared appreciation for awkwardness and stilted dialogue unites both projects, but “Apples” keeps emotion at the forefront of its ambitions. Cynicality is not a word existent in the film’s lexicon, which is continually evident by Servetalis’ brilliant performance—the actor nary misses his mark. By leveraging most of the movie’s weight on expressions and glimpses, “Apples” cherishes subtlety, the mark of a project confident in its craft.
Furthermore, despite falling into the oversaturated cinematic trend of revitalizing the 4:3 aspect ratio—thanks a lot, A24—its inclusion here remains justified throughout by highlighting the oppressive constraints of uncertainty and the sentiment of being forced into a lifestyle outside of one’s control. Bolstered by Bartosz Świniarski’s cinematography and Alexander Voulgaris’ score, “Apples” adopts a frigid, albeit memorable aesthetic that, directly comparable to its plot structure, succeeds in simplicity. Much of the film’s mindedly constructed momentum should be credited to Giorgos Zaferis’ editing, whose talents ensure “Apples” retains its ripe magnetism throughout its, relatively short, runtime.
Below the surface, “Apples” brings themes of connection, free will, and, of course, memory to the table. Alongside the recurring motif of literal apples, which ostensibly symbolize Aris’ regression to a clean slate—analogous with an Adam-like character, an innocent man shaped by forces beyond his control—the film does not shy away from its meditation on the nature of experience, by posing a question to its viewers: Is life valuable in-and-of-itself, or does existence gain value by the emotions assigned to it by the individual? Seemingly, “Apples” argues for the validity of the latter answer by focusing on the isolation and unfulfillment associated with the banality of routine and expectations, opting instead to promote spontaneity and defying imposed restrictions, consequently finding beauty in melancholia and uncovering the necessity for change.
And yet, “Apples” does periodically fall too far from the tree. Sporadic moments of surrealism exude unnecessity, and the comedy gradually tapers off until it vanishes altogether, leaving the final act to languish in cliché sentiment. Furthermore, although its thematic substance should be commended, “Apples” frequently shouts its subject matter at the viewer, which counteracts its influence noticeably. Likewise, its deliberately sedate pacing, although generally effective, encumbers its narrative flow on several occasions.
However, as a work rooted in its contemplation of remembrance, “Apples” stands steadfast in its commitment to creating a bittersweet experience that imparts a heartwarming afterglow, encouraging you to contemplate on your past and anticipate the future with optimism—that sentiment will not, and should not, be forgotten any time soon. [B+]