The man (Aris Servetalis) who becomes known as #14842 in “Apples” is already wondering how his mind works at the start of Christos Nikou’s exquisite feature debut, sitting alone in his apartment with the melancholy lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarsborough Fair” floating through the air. He looks defeated, but in control of his faculties, simply unable to find the energy or enthusiasm to take care of himself, a quality that doesn’t carry over to the next day after he’s found asleep on a trolley, not knowing where he is or having any identification on him for the authorities to place him. The EMTs who pick him up are hardly phased by this as amnesia has become a common occurrence, and with so many cases and no idea where the man came from, the obvious place to take him is the Disturbed Memory Program that has been set up to house such individuals and give them a way back to a meaningful life when it’s established that there’s no way to recover the memories of their old one.
Surely, Nikou and his co-writer Stavros Raptis couldn’t have envisioned the environment the film would be coming out in during a year we’d all rather forget, but “Apples” was uniquely built for this moment, both deeply connected to its anonymous lead as he enrolls in a type of therapy akin to a parole program where he is afforded an apartment and given tapes as encouragement to try new things, and thoughtfully constructed to wrap its arms around the societal consequences of the big idea at its center where the erasure of history begins with large swaths of people no longer having a common currency of collective memory. There’s an eerie emptiness to the city streets that #14842 is let loose on, in some ways physically caused by the amnesia when drivers will simply stop their cars and block traffic, but likely many more emotionally by those who have lost their way when routine conversations are anything but when people can no longer assume what capacity another is in mentally.
Still, #14842 thinks he may have stumbled upon someone of equal footing when he goes to a movie and spots a woman named Anna (Sofia Georgovasili), like himself, taking a polaroid of her experience to keep track of it. The two have a connection, and with nothing else to compare it to, it may feel like love, though “Apples” is careful to explore impulses that have been disconnected from most of the context the two had before, finding both wicked humor and provocative notions of what constitutes free will when there’s some question as to whether the pair have some role in what memories they have lost and they are are each taking orders from the Disturbed Memory Program’s tapes, pushing them to experience new things perhaps with an agenda. The past occasionally pops up in the most unexpected ways — Anna knows how to drive a car, but not how to park it, and in one of the film’s most subtly touching moments, #14842 is naturally moved to sing along to a song he realizes he knows the lyrics to before realizing he might upset his new partner by having the comfort of a memory when she takes notice.
Recognizing painful memories have as much value as happy ones, the tragicomedy reminds of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” by way of “Dogtooth” (which Nikou happened to work on as a script supervisor), but to suggest it isn’t a complete original would be doing it a disservice, with Nikou’s ability to allude to the ripple effects of the issues plaguing its central character on the larger world without ever leaving his side is truly unique, cleverly considering what fills the void when our own minds start to betray us. At a time when everything seems out of sync, “Apples” resonates brilliantly and while the temptation will be strong for many to memory hole 2020, Nikou hazards against it and he should be trusted, if for no other reason than it has some bright spots like “Apples.”