Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou marks his directorial debut with “Apples,” an accidentally timely pandemic movie that captured imaginations at the Venice Film Festival, where it opened the respected Orrizonti section, and has since gone on to represent Greece in the international feature film Oscar race.
The film wasn’t actually shot during the COVID-19 crisis, but follows a man (Aris Servetalis) struggling to recover his memory amid a pandemic that causes widespread amnesia. Doctors at a special rehabilitation clinic present a list of tasks ranging from the mundane to the downright bizarre that may trigger his memory — all of which must be carefully documented with a Polaroid camera.
The film’s Lido bow in September — which, by most accounts, increasingly feels like a small miracle given the ongoing COVID-19 situation in Europe — marks the only time Nikou was able to watch “Apples” with audiences.
“I haven’t gone to any other festivals and I haven’t seen the film with other audiences,” Nikou tells Variety. In a way, he counts himself lucky to have enjoyed even one communal experience. “I’ve heard from many filmmakers who didn’t even have the chance to go to their films in a theater and everything happened virtually. They’re trying to understand through social media or through reviews what people get from their movies.”
“Mrs. America” star Cate Blanchett, along with her production banner Dirty Films, boarded “Apples” as an executive producer in October. The Oscar winner, who is currently shooting Adam McKay comedy “Don’t Look Up” in Boston alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, is supporting “Apples” in a major way, helping to “scaffold the journey” and help it find its audience.
Blanchett tells Variety that “Apples” “would be moving and compelling in any year, but this year, in particular, it just feels so relevant.”
“I’ve been living in my memory in a way,” muses Blanchett, who returned to the U.K. after the 2020 Berlinale and isolated with her family on their country farm for the better part of the year. She emerged for the Venice Film Festival, where she presided over the main competition jury and snuck away at one point to catch “Apples.”
“When all of those familiar markers of time and place are removed, which is what ‘Apples’ deals with, you really do have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I? Who are we?’ [and think,] ‘Am I a product of what I’ve remembered, or what I’ve forgotten?’ ‘Apples’ seems so timely in that way.”
Sold globally by Alpha Violet and distributed by Cohen Media Group in the U.S., the film has been aligned with the characteristic aloofness of the Greek Weird Wave and its corresponding filmmakers, including “Dogtooth” helmer Yorgos Lanthimos and “Attenberg” director Athina Rachel Tsangari, but Nikou distances himself from any so-called movement.
“I don’t believe that there is a specific Greek wave,” Nikou told Variety in June. “My intention was to make a movie more close to the cinema I love as a viewer: movies that create their own worlds and have conceptual ideas and at the same time have an unusual and complete story to narrate.”
One of the film’s most memorable scenes sees Aris join a fellow amnesia patient at a bar with a busy dance floor. Though he initially stands to the side, merely an observer to the heaving group of party goers doing the twist, he cautiously wades in and slowly, joyfully, loses himself in the music, instantly suggesting a connection to his past.
“I love dance scenes in general. I love watching them,” Nikou enthuses. “I never dance as a person,” he admits, to which Blanchett balks, “You never dance? When we’re all through this pandemic, we need to rectify that.”
“I very rarely dance,” Nikou corrects, “but I love watching people dance. For me, when people are dancing in movies, they forget themselves and everyone else, and everything that happens on a daily basis.”
Blanchett and Nikou plan to collaborate beyond “Apples,” as well. The actor hints that she may be both producing and starring in separate projects helmed by the filmmaker. For his part, Nikou is at work on his English-language debut.
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