Apples: Core Strength, by David Bax
Even if you didn’t know that director Christos Nikou had a professional and artistic connection to Yorgos Lanthimos, you wouldn’t get too far into his feature debut, Apples, before making the connection (Nikou was the second assistant director on Dogtooth). the Lanthimos DNA is detectable in the deadpan delivery, still camera and the passive, bemused gaze at some of the more terrifyingly banal aspects of being human.
Apples‘ laughs arrive mostly in the nervous variety. Our protagonist, Aris (Aris Servetalis), is adrift in amnesia. Everything is new and potentially scary to him so a trip to the market for produce is no more or less surreal than attending a costume party dressed as a spaceman, helmet and all. In either case, communication is difficult.
There’s no ramping up or any other such modulation when it comes to the tension in Apples. Your pulse is not likely to rise above resting rate. And yet, in its way, the movie is as psychologically fraught and exhausting as any horror movie. The loss of Aris’ memory appears to drive him into such a deep depression that to empathize with him is a legitimately frightening undertaking.
Then again, we don’t really get to know Aris before his amnesia sets in. Perhaps this is simply how he is and always has been. Despite being quite superficial in its tonal affectation, Apples captures the quiet torture of loneliness in ways that are as impressive as they are unnerving.
It also captures, for reasons I am fully unable to detect, a specifically 1990s version of the world. All of the technology with which Aris interacts is at least twenty years old (cars, CD players) if not more (Polaroids, reel to reels, tape players). A reference to seeing Titanic puts the movie’s setting as 1997 or 1998. Maybe there’s a reason for this or maybe, like the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, it’s just something movies do now.
It’s particularly strange that the movie is a period piece if you consider how much it could be trying to say about life right now. In the film’s world, the amnesia plaguing Aris is an epidemic. He’s just one of many poor souls walking around with no idea who they are. The plot kicks in when he gets himself signed up for an experimental treatment that has him putting himself in a variety of situations in an effort to create new memories (thus the costume party, not to mention the car crash and the furtive bathroom sex). Gradually, we get the impression that Aris’ new memories might be preferable to the ones he’s lost. Apples is a half-mocking parable of the individual invented realities in which we increasingly isolate ourselves.