A man bangs his head against the wall of his living room. He listens to Scarborough Fair on the radio. He leaves his house, pats his neighbour’s dog, gets on a bus and falls asleep. By the time the bus reaches the end of the line, the man has forgotten everything about himself: his name, address, why he is there. The bus driver calls an ambulance.
This is the first five minutes of Christos Nikou’s feature Apples, which debuts at this year’s Venice Film Festival. The following 85 explore the implications of a man forging a completely fresh identity. Aris (Aris Servetalis) has fallen prey to a mysterious and sudden amnesia afflicting the inhabitants of a wintry Greek city. Through his psychiatrist he is enrolled in a rehab programme that aims to reintroduce the amnesiacs to normal life by settling them in anonymous-looking apartments and commanding them, by way of an archaic-looking tape player, to photograph themselves doing things. Starting with a simple bike ride, Aris slowly begins to fit himself back into a life whose past is subtly shaded with trauma.
Servetalis is a sensitively-placed tent peg for the structure. Registering irony, sadness and bewilderment with a single look, he imparts a necessary emotional weight to Nikou and Stavros Raptis’s deadpan script. At times, though, Nikou’s spare directing style crosses from economical to threadbare. Especially in the scenes when Aris is absent or the focus is elsewhere, there is a kind of lifelessness in the mise en scène and dialogue. Low-key music and cinematography increase rather than counterpoint this inertia. An insistent car horn shocks us awake briefly, but it soon subsides.
But with enough mystery and pathos to keep us afloat, Apples is a quiet success. Aris’s unexpressed struggles feel real, though there is a fair amount of cutesy 21st-century design to distract from them. (Medical ethics committees would writhe in their seats, too – when was the last time you heard a psychiatrist prescribe a one-night stand in the name of rehabilitation?) It seems rather too short for its high-concept premise, but that brevity is also a blessing: Apples is a decent hour and a half’s watch.
Apples (Mila) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Apples (Mila) here: