Greek directors have in recent years coopted that species of European ennui that used to be associated with Scandinavia, but filtered through a more mordant sensibility. There’s a fatalism inherent in the work of the most celebrated of these filmmakers, Yorgos Lanthimos, whose former assistant, Christos Nikou, foregoes his ex-boss’s typical black comedy and settles into a kind of droll numbness. Apples‘ premise is high concept, but Nikous doesn’t take sufficient advantage of it. There’s a virus at large in the greyed-out society depicted that renders its victims memoryless, and while amnesia is one of those cinematic cliches, like the forlorn hitman, that’s been wrung dry, here the loss of a recognizable past is complete to the point of erasure. Language is all that remains.
The patient offered for our consideration is Aris (Aris Servetalis), who is stricken while on a bus, and once he falls into the hands of the authorities–he has no ID on him–he is placed in an institution that specializes in his condition. By this point the specialists understand there is no use in trying to recover memories (the title refers to the only thing that Aris knows he “likes”) and thus the “rehabilitation” involves constructing a whole new identity. The comic potential is ripe, and to a certain extent Nikous finds a lot of dry humor in Aris’s situation and his road back to social normality. What’s most interesting about the script is the clinical means that Aris’s doctors use to bring about this transformation—and it is presented as a transformation. Regardless of Aris’s blank slate condition, there is still a personality there, and as a character study of a man without character, Apples works well. Aris’s mission is to relearn everything a modern human being learns to become a functioning member of society, from riding a bicycle to picking up sex partners in a bar, and the fact that all these tasks are documented (with, of all things, a Polaroid camera) emphasizes the conventionality of what we take for human development, which has become yet another function of capitalism.
But Nikous himself is trying to present something conventional as well, and the movie’s wry take on social conditioning eventually gives way to an emotionally fraught melodrama. This change in tone should be startling, but it feels less than consequential since Aris’s default behavior is, by definition, impossible to read. When he becomes sad, it actually seems like an improvement. Nikous is defeated by his own cleverness.
In Greek. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
Apples home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2020 Boo Productions and Lava Films