Apples – Mila (2020)
Directed by: Christos Nikou | 91 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassili, Anna Kalaitzidou, Argyris Bakirtzis, Kostas Laskos, Kimon Fioretos, Costas Xikominos, Konstantinos Papatheodorou, Electra Sarri, Natalie Chavez, Akis Benardis, Simos Vogiatzoglou, Thekla Gounaridou
During a pandemic, Greek Aris suffers from amnesia. He has to pick up something or someone and loses his way home. After a complete blackout, he is picked haphazardly from the street by an ambulance and deposited with a lot of fellow sufferers with the same screw loose. Aris has no identification with him and no one from family or friends comes to claim him. So the authorities decide to give him a new identity with a social reintegration program. On a low-tech tape recorder, Aris is given dozens of assignments, such as ‘visit a horror film’, and he has to take a photo as a reminder. Welcome to the world of ‘Apples’. This little inventive film is quite an odd one out, nevertheless still safe on dry land.
For director Christos Nikou, this sober, slightly perky satire on Greek society is his debut film. Previously, Nikou mainly worked as a second unit director, including on films by compatriot Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of absurdist tragicomedies such as ‘The Favorite’ (2018), ‘The Lobster’ (2015) and ‘Dogtooth’ (2009). So you can easily guess where Nikou partly gets the cake, referred to by some critics as the Greek Weird Wave movie genre. However, ‘Apples’ does not have an even more dull tone, especially noticeable in the restrained acting, than the work of Lanthimos. However, Nikou’s debut is a bit less toxic in his social critique.
Actor Aris Servetalis plays empty shell Aris superbly. In his hands the character seems to have been born dry, already drained by life before it even started. The assignments Aris receives are suspiciously similar to how people fill their daily Instagram or Facebook stories with images of adventures, relationship highlights, the food on your plate, and so on. He meekly performs the instructional monologues on the tape recorder in order to build a new identity, a broadly supported ‘self’ in a country in crisis, but at the same time forgets to live without a manual.
‘Apples’ is not without a dash of surrealism. At some point, Aris has to attend a Carnival-esque party with the instruction to flirt. Like a fish on land, Aris flounders around in an astronaut suit and ends up alone in the Ikea standard-equipped studio again. There you can hear him breathing rhythmically as in the space classic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), cut off from any life on Earth. The alienation is complete. Who was he in his past life? The impassive Aris is as far from existence as the prevailing pandemic is an uncrackable mystery.
The tone and visual style of ‘Apples’ can hardly be measured anymore, see also the 4:3 ‘square’ image aspect ratio. The film mainly makes you smile, far from laughing. At the same time, it does not lose itself in navel-gazing or conservative moralism. Yet it only bites the margins for a satire. The ideas and jokes are easy to appreciate, but won’t necessarily hit hard. The viewer is indebted to Nikou for originality, less as a warning against something of social disaster. ‘Apples’ is just too much behind the absurd facts for that.