APPLES, deadpan absurd parable, new wave greek style
Emerging Greek director Christos Nikou is the latest keeper to keep the flame of New Wave Greek cinematic oddities alive.
Nine years after the remarkable achievement of Yorgos Lanthimos Alps hailed on the Lido, Nikou arrives at La Biennale with Apples (original title: Mila), its beginnings, which share hereditary characteristics. The comparison of the two authors – one established and celebrated, the other rising – will eventually turn into a regularly repeated refrain.
Nikou served as assistant director on the breakthrough and second solo feature Lathimos dog tooth. As if to preventatively move away from too many comparisons to make, Nikou explicitly cites Spike Jonze, Leos Carax and Charlie Kaufman among his influences. However, Apples is a tongue-in-cheek absurd parable full of blood cut from the finest New Wave Greek fabric. And it is undeniable that this influence.
Despite the tragi-comic aesthetic characteristic of surreal realism propelled by Yorgos Lanthimos, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Babis Makridis, among others, Apples goes into a spin. The opening scenes mention the “new identity” program and “the neurological hospital’s disturbed memory ward”. These notions seem drawn from one of Philip K. Dick’s speculative phantasmagoria rather than contemporary Greek cinema.
Nikou merges dystopian history, alternate history setup, and absurdist-biting parable into a tale of a raging pandemic causing severe amnesia. The main protagonist of suffering portrayed in the finest detached and affectionless performance by none other than the lead actor in Babis Makridis’ absurd comedy-drama L and Lanthimos’ AlpsAris Servatalis.
The protagonist Aris (the character’s name) contracts a “new virus” that has been plaguing Athens lately. He ends up in the hospital after being unable to tell a bus driver where he was originally going. Thus Aris becomes the last to arrive at the “Disturbed Memory Department”.
Sporting a perpetually listless gaze, his only connection to the old life seems to be an insatiable appetite for apples while enrolled in a “new identity” program. The series of tasks or roles that Aris is tasked with piecing together are designed to return him to a condition that would allow him smooth assimilation into a healthy functioning society.
Aris and characters suffering a similar fate inhabit the Athens of an analog age. The alternative version of Greek capital offers simpler tools that the “disturbed memory department” exploits in therapy: riding a bike, visiting a nightclub, dancing at a party, having casual sex in the bathroom. Aris dutifully obeys though dispassionately and, furthermore, records his accomplishments with an old Polaroid camera for proof.
After several exercises, the complete scheme of the program “the new identity” transpires. The Memory Reboot was designed to feel like a crash course in growth through traditional checkpoints from adolescence into fully developed adulthood.
The tasks assigned to Aris create a familiar rhythm of ritualization that largely dominates dog tooth Where L. Nikou uses rituals as a formalistic device to reflect on pressing topics of identity, reminiscence, loss, and grief, heavy topics that have recently shot in world cinema as a symptom of a larger diagnosis that prevails. in society across continents.
It’s not just about Apples which distinguishes it from its predecessors. Despite the film rehashing the deadpan, acerbic and absurd poetics of New Wave’s most recognizable Greek works, it is the appearance of Greek quirkiness that drives Apples off the beaten path of identity crisis and grief-ruled movies.
It’s a win-win for an emerging director who plans to make a name for himself alongside established authors while avoiding a somewhat epigonal approach. Apples brings a pressing topic to the table and gives it an inventive new twist, a good sign for a newcomer’s career launch. (Hollywood talent agency CAA signed Nikou when Apples put up for sale on the Cannes virtual market).
Compared to the auteur style of Lathimos and Makridis, Nikou retains the apparent veneer of dark, offbeat comedy-drama. Although below the surface, Apples fails to achieve the harrowing psychological and existential sadism of its cinematic ancestors.
A little snippet of melancho-sentimentality served up in the final twist casts Aris’ ordeal in a more emphatic light. Apples mature into a less perverted and more reversed version of Babis Makridis’ grieve-com Pity trading meditation on identity for a license to mourn. It is this little spark of humanity that rewrites history in a story that deviates from simple retro farce cabaret.
The quasi-genre twist that repackages the style and formalism characteristic of Greek cinematic eccentricities happens to be the welcome novelty in Apples. Nikou uses the poetics and immediately recognizable marks of the Greek new wave as a ready-made aesthetic. His authorship helps reframe the brand’s style into at least two strands of social commentary, though Apples despite the austere minimalism offers more allegorical interpretations.
The first line follows directly from the plot. While social media served as a platform to reconstruct personal identities to create a completely virtual and fictional one, Aris does not have that privilege. The strange case of his erased personality takes on an analog process, most likely the result of a mental breakdown.
The protagonist’s bout of amnesia feels like a self-defense mechanism, which may be the case for others. The trope of pandemics and unmistakable existentialist undertones spins Apples in a tongue-in-cheek take on a worn-out apocalyptic genre in a retro-nostalgic coating.
The other line of interpretation relates directly to the world-building of the bygone era when time passed slowly, as humanity did not live under a constant barrage of information. As if they possessed the charm of silent cinema, the almost anachronistic character of Apples creates a conflicting pleasure of alienation and nostalgia. While they wield the effect ambiguously at once, the appeasement and abrasion of story and style operate accordingly, alternating with each other.
Apples is more than just a blast from the recent past in terms of the analog era and the New Greek Wave. Nikou naturally proceeds with a generational evolution pushing formalism into new territories while reducing the impact of shock therapy without betraying the dark comedic roots of his cinematic ancestors. The director eats the apple of the Greek new wave and has it too. It’s a fantastic reminder of the admired cinema that seemed out of print and its generational expansion.
The film Apples announces the arrival of new talents. Nikou is already working on his follow-up project, Nailsa feature film in English in preparation with his Apples‘ writing partner Stavros Raptis, working alongside Manchester playwright and screenwriter Sam Steiner.
Originally released in October 2020, as part of its world premiere at the 2020 Venice Biennale. It will be released in US theaters on Friday, June 24 via Cohen Media Group.
- Christos Nikou
- Stavros Rapti
- Aris Servetalis
- Sofia Georgovassili
- Anna Kalaitzidou