In a world where amnesia has become commonplace, a solitary Greek man named Aris (Aris Servetalis) tries to rebuild his life after the spontaneous loss of his memory. Aris is a quiet, secretive soul with soft eyes and a palpable sense of melancholy.
After a stay in the amnesiac ward, he enrolls in a program that provides him with instructions for rejoining society. They are given to Aris via tape recorder, as a doctor’s voice guides him through a “program” that consists of normal activities like going to the movies, dressing up for Halloween, and even making friends. After each experience, he must take a polaroid and put it in a photo album for the doctors to observe.
Throughout it all Aris remains mysteriously detached from all these activities, living life as a spectator. This starts to change when he meets another amnesiac–an outgoing woman named Anna (Sofia Georgovassili) who is also going through this “program.” She approaches her assignments with a childlike annoyance, uninterested in the emotional nuances of each interaction.
For a little while, Christos Nikou’s feature directorial debut “Apples” feels like one of those films about a lonely man who falls in love with a fascinating woman and regains his zest for life. Aris’ time with Anna is reminiscent of the relationships in American independent dramas like “Garden State” and Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.” He’s a quiet man, she’s an opinionated woman—it’s a dynamic in media audiences know well. But Nikou has loftier ambitions for “Apples, ” commenting on the shallow nature of their interactions. Despite his condition, Aris seems to be actively avoiding an intimate relationship with other people and his own mind. Anna is someone he can disappear into, with the image of a relationship and no actual depth behind it. Is Anna even attracted to Aris or is he just agreeable enough to be her companion for a short time? Does Aris like Anna, or is he simply afraid of being fully alone?
The only thing Aris—and by extension the audience—knows for sure is his love for apples, which he is seen frequently eating throughout the film. In a way, this is his most intimate relationship. We don’t know the full story behind his attachment but that is where our curiosity settles. With its connections to health, wellness and memory, apples are Aria’s main tether to the man he used to be.
The influence of Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, and fellow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is clear throughout “Apples” with its meta-commentary on the absurdity of human nature and the awkwardness of love. The film takes its time, allowing us to live in every quiet moment with Aris. Slowly it becomes clear that there is a performed detachment, squashing any strong emotions before they fully reveal themselves. It’s a deeply human coping mechanism that highlights the masculine fear of vulnerability and opening oneself up to a pandora’s box of deep pain that begs to be dealt with.
Despite the existential depth of its themes, “Apples” has a somewhat whimsical tone with its playful use of music, light, and everyday pop culture references. With our protagonist being an amnesiac, it allows us to enjoy small details like learning the plot of James Cameron’s “Titanic” or doing the twist at a retro style club night and having a bathroom hookup for what feels like the first time.
Aris exists in a sort of analog future devoid of social media but still somewhat detached and superficial in its engagement with social life and communal experiences. Life is a collection of rituals, each rooted in a broad pop-culture based understanding of what it means to be authentically human. Each of Aria’s activities could be easily described in a pop song, with vague enough details to feel universal.
Both Servetalis and Georgovassili give skilled, authentic performances as two people with wildly different approaches to dealing with their loss of memory. Anna’s energetic, unfiltered reactions to the world are balanced by Aris’ restrained pursuit of understanding. Together, they are perfect opposites, with the shaky nature of their relationship adding richness to their shared moments.
In his first outing as a feature filmmaker, Nikou blends subtle comedy and tragedy to create a quietly moving cinematic experience. “Apples” is a film about what it means to be alive and part of the wider social structure of the world. It’s about the ways we distract ourselves from the memories that cause us the deepest pain. One cannot be sustained by the momentary joys alone, and no degree of documentation can substitute the authentic feelings of these initial moments. Life is fleeting, but the only way to find more joy is by accepting the intensity of pain and loss. If most experiences are universal, then existence is all about the details.