Plot: The world is hit by a pandemic – only it’s not the one we all know. Sudden amnesia is causing countless citizens to forget who they are, where they came from and where they’re heading. They wander aimlessly, trying to make sense of who they are – but are taken into a recovery program of sorts which helps them build new identities.
Christos Nikou’s debut feature Apples takes a distant, dry and un-sentimental look at short and long term memory loss, what it means to be devoid of moments that define who we are, and what it’s like to try to rebuild oneself when there’s nothing in the past to cling to. A debut reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous works, particularly The Lobster, Nikou (a Greek talent to watch and one who had worked with Lanthimos on Dogtooth) delivers a film that’s both inventive and underdeveloped, an interesting yet unfocused watch that raises questions and makes intriguing observations but never fully explores them sufficiently to seal the deal.
The film opens with an unnamed man who’s getting ready to run an errand. On the radio, he discovers that the city has been hit with a pandemic of sorts – sudden amnesia is hitting large numbers of citizens who no longer remember anything about their past. As he goes out and buys flowers, his memory is suddenly and almost entirely erased, except for some distant moments from his long term memory. He is left confused, mildly distrubed and unable to know how to react. Soon afterwards, he is admitted to a local government facility which runs a recovery program for amnesiac patients. In hopes of having one of their family members contact them, patients are treated via a two-stage program. When the unnamed man receives no visits, he is moved to stage two: the New Identity program.
Transferred from the local medical facility to the city, he is given an apartment and a recorder on which the local therapist had recorded instructions. On a daily basis, cassettes with new instructions are sent, and the man is instructed to comply with them and to document such compliance using a polaroid camera. The purpose seems to be rebuilding one’s connection to daily routine – such as buying food, riding bicycles, going to bars and meeting people.
Apples seems to be trying to make a point on our relationship with memory and human connection – and what happens when present connections are devoid of memory and emotion. In attempting to regain self awareness and building a fresh identity that’s based on current happenings, the man undergoes a series of activities which, as they progress along, have more and more elements of human connection.
Two flaws clearly derail Apples from reaching the heights of similar, Greek Weird Wave films – first, the pacing. After an intriguing first third, the film loses itself in a series of repetitive instructions that do not progress the narrative much, and the themes and intrigue wane as the running time goes by as Nikou ceases to delve deeper into the main character’s psyche and chooses instead to track his journey as he moves from one activity to another without much depth. The script, while ambitious and intentionally distanced, fails to retain audience interest and sustain the intrigue throughout. When the film hits its final third, it becomes evident that any character resolution would not be as earned as it could have been, had Nikou given more focus to characterization and further development to the film’s core themes.
Verdict: An ambitious yet unfocused debut feature that builds some intrigue but isn’t entirely successful in retaining it. A sometimes frustrating depiction of an interesting enough topic, Apples lacks depth and characterization that could have elevated beyond a fascinating pitch.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.