Apples (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Another dry absurd drama film from Greece

“Apples”, which was selected as the Greek entry for Best International Film Oscar in last year, is a dry absurd drama film which is decidedly peculiar right from its very beginning. Although it is not wholly successful in its offbeat exploration of human identity and condition, the movie is still fascinating to watch on the whole nonetheless, and I observed those odd and interesting moments in the film with considerable curiosity and admiration even while frequently feeling distant to its deliberately opaque storytelling during my viewing.

At the beginning, the movie lets us gather slowly what has been going on in the world surrounding its anonymous hero. There has been a strange pandemic which inexplicably causes complete amnesia, and our hero does not seem to mind that much as going through another day, but, what do you know, he is subsequently taken to a local hospital after showing the typical symptoms of that disease in question.

Because there is not anything to show his identity or his residence address, the doctors of the hospital have him stay along with other pandemic patients for a while, and he subsequently goes through a series of simple tests to check his memory ability. Although he still can speak well, his mind seems to be completely blank without any personal memory or knowledge, and there is a little amusing scene where he keeps giving wrong answers during a music association test. Things look pretty hopeless for him, but he seems to remember at least that he likes apples, and we often see him eating apples throughout the film.

On one day, the doctor assigned to him suggests that he should go through a certain rehabilitation program from pandemic patients like him. Despite some reluctance, he agrees to participate in the program, and we soon see him beginning the first day outside the hospital. Now he lives in a small modest apartment, and all he has to do is following the recommendation from a tape delivered to him everyday. In addition, he is also instructed to record that everytime via a Polaroid camera given to him.

Although he is not so particularly enthusiastic at first, he slowly gets accustomed to doing new things day by day. At first, he tries to ride a small bicycle borrowed from a kid he meets at a nearby park, and then he goes to a nightclub party as wearing a showy costume just like many others attending that party. While reminded of his current status from time to time, he becomes more willing to experience one new activity after another, and he always records everything via his Polaroid camera.

In the meantime, something unexpected happens to him. He comes across a woman who is also going through the rehabilitation program, and she makes him join her latest new life experience. As time goes by, it is apparent to us that he is attracted to this woman, and it looks like she is also interested in getting a bit closer to her, as shown from a brief scene where she does something daring along with him inside a public bathroom.

And then there comes a little surprising moment from him at one point later in the film. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you that you will instantly look back at what has been presented on the screen before that narrative point, and you will probably be more interested in what will happen next in the story. Although its eventual arriving point is not exactly satisfying, the movie adamantly sticks to its detached attitude as before, and we come to muse more on whatever is churning beneath its phlegmatic narrative.

This is the first feature film by director/co-writer/co-producer Christos Nikou, who worked as the second assistant director in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated film “Dogtooth” (2009). Like that memorably strange film about one very nutty family who goes quite extreme within their isolated environment, the movie is cold, distant, and baffling as often intriguing us with peculiar touches and details, and you may chuckle a bit while watching the two main characters in the film talk about an unnamed movie which may sound quite familiar to you for good reasons.

I must confess that I am still wondering how I should interpret the story, but I admire how Nikou and his crew members keep holding our attention as skillfully maintaining the offbeat mood on the screen. Shot in the 1.33:1 ratio, the cinematography by Bartosz Świniarski constantly emphasizes the hero’s isolated status, and the soundtrack of the movie is effective in its utilization of several recognizable pieces of music. In case of the main performers in the film, they all look as serious as possible in their plain appearance, and that certainly accentuates more the dry but odd tone of the film.

Overall, “Apples” will surely require some patience as your typical arthouse film, but it is worthwhile to watch mainly for its distinctive qualities, and Nikou demonstrates here that he is another good filmmaker to watch. Although his movie is not exactly fresh as often reminiscent of “Dogtooth” and Lanthimos’ other works, he will probably come to find and then explore his own territory after this competent staring point, and I guess I can have some expectation on whatever will come next from this promising artist.

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