Fugue State: Christos Nikou’s treasured movie memories

Aris (Aris Servetalis) uses a camera as a memory aid in Christos Nikou’s Apples. 
Aris (Aris Servetalis) uses a camera as a memory aid in Christos Nikou’s Apples

Apples director Christos Nikou recalls his Life in Film, telling us about the recent releases he loves and watching The Truman Show for the first time in a historic Athens theater.

What you need sometimes is just a bathtub, a little bit of blood and a song from Laura Marling, and then your heart melts.” —⁠Christos Nikou

There are generally two types of contemporary films about a pandemic. One tries to capture what life was like in 2020 under a global lockdown. The other is pure fiction, conceived and produced sometimes long before Covid-19 protocols complicated film sets, and now the filmmakers find the eerie foreshadowing in their creations being continually pointed out along the virtual press tours (and sometimes, with pre-credit disclaimers fully loaded). Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou’s directorial debut Apples firmly belongs among the latter group.

Nikou got his start working as a second assistant director on local legend Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth before graduating to assistant director to Richard Linklater for Before Midnight, which was shot in Messinia, Greece. For his first time in the director’s chair, Nikou’s lo-fi sci-fi was inspired by his late father, who tended to eat eight apples a day. In the film, Aris Servetalis plays Aris, a victim of a pandemic that causes people to develop amnesia, who undergoes treatment in an experimental recovery program that sets peculiar tasks in order to jog his memory.

You never forget how to ride a bike… in theory.
You never forget how to ride a bike… in theory.

“It seems that this film is less about memory loss and more about the intentional construction of individual identity,” Letterboxd member Eric J reflects upon their second viewing. “What makes this film compelling is how it draws a line from trauma and pain to self-doubt and the desire for personal reinvention projects.” Frances Meh also raves, “Weirdo, deadpan, high-concept romp over similar ground as Eternal Sunshine that’s quietly, unexpectedly devastating. I love it so much.”

Apples has had a long journey to US theaters, finally releasing Stateside this June. It first debuted at the Venice Biennale in 2020 and had a lengthy festival run until releasing through Europe in 2021. For his sophomore feature, Nikou follows in the footsteps of Lanthimos by making the move to the English language with Fingernails, starring Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed (it was recently acquired by Apple TV+) .

As Apples arrives on video-on-demand, we put our Life in Film questionnaire to Nikou, probing into his cinema memories, favorite Greek classics and best directorial debuts. (Watch an exclusive clip from the film on our HQ page.)

‘Have I seen this movie before?’ Aris, check your Letterboxd activity.  
‘Have I seen this movie before?’ Aris, check your Letterboxd activity.  

Do you have a Letterboxd account? I’d love to hear more about how you discovered us!
I have created an account on Letterboxd for only the movies that I like. I discovered Letterboxd thanks to some friends during the pandemic as I could not travel, it was really useful and great to read comments about Apples. As we make movies to create emotions, it was really good to read how audiences from all over the world reacted and it was really rewarding for me. 

We’ve gone deep before, so now it’s your turn. How was your experience of first watching The Truman Show, the film that made you want to become a filmmaker?
I was fourteen when I first watched The Truman Show in one of the most historical theaters in Athens, which does not exist anymore after a big fire. I remember that for one second or maybe a bit more, I thought: what if this was happening to me? Is my life real? Maybe I am playing in a show too? Where are all these fucking cameras, how come did they hide them so well? No, for sure that was a small thought I had, but mainly what impressed me was the creation of the world and the tone of the film. 

For me, the script of The Truman Show is one of the best ever written. It is an amazing prophecy for our life. It is so deep, so funny and so melancholic. It has the perfect tone I am looking for in a film. I love when films create such a cocktail of emotions and are mixing them so that sometimes, you can cry and laugh simultaneously. The whole movie is full of magic moments but I would like to select one: the ending, when Jim looks at the camera and says the last line—“In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night!” It is so funny they had that poster in Cannes this year. It’s a movie that would have probably never been selected there, but for a poster, it is good.

Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-winning work in The Father (2020) is the performance to beat for best of the decade. 
Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-winning work in The Father (2020) is the performance to beat for best of the decade. 

Which directorial debuts do you feel did everything right? 
I will focus in all the next replies only on movies which were made in the last decade or so, as I feel cinema is less exciting in the last years for different reasons. One debut I found fascinating is The Father, directed by Florian Zeller. It is perfect in all ways and Anthony Hopkins gave the best performance of the last decade for me. Another amazing debut is Son of Saul by László Nemes. I am not usually a big fan of movies with a concept in direction, [but] the approach and everything in Son of Saul is absolutely right and László with [Director of Photography] Mátyás Erdély created a very unique cinematic experience.

What films that deal with loss resonate with you the most?
Without hesitation, I would choose the film Beginners directed by Mike Mills, as it is my favorite movie of the 2010s. When watching Beginners, it emanates so much warmth and depth and these combined feelings for me are so difficult to achieve. Very rarely an autobiographical film is not boring, and Mike Mills, with his very creative and inspirational narrative, created a story that resonates very strongly.

David Lowery’s minimalist masterpiece, A Ghost Story (2017).
David Lowery’s minimalist masterpiece, A Ghost Story (2017).

What minimalist films blow you away? 
A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery, because the simplicity reminds me of Robert Bresson movies. It’s so poetic and it has a great performance from Rooney Mara, very strong cinematography, and it creates so much very efficiently. Another film is Macadam Stories, directed by Samuel Benchetrit. It is very subtle, tender and funny. It is one of the most underrated films of the last decade and I hope more people will discover it one day.

What unconventional romance movies do you love? 
I think all romance movies are in a way unconventional. Romance is something much more ideal in movies than in real life. On Body and Soul, directed by Ildikó Enyedi, is my choice, simply because what you need sometimes is just a bathtub, a little bit of blood and a song from Laura Marling, and then your heart melts.

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “humane” animated feature Anomalisa (2015).
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “humane” animated feature Anomalisa (2015).

What’s a that film you sorely underestimated? 
I would prefer to reply to this question as ‘movies I was not expecting to make such an impact on me’ and again, focusing on [recent] movies. I would mention Adventureland, directed by Greg Mottola, from 2009. At that time of my life, I was snubbing this kind of cinema and I had in mind that only international arthouse movies were more singular, but then I realized that what I need is a strong narrative story. I have a feeling that many recent international movies of this last decade follow a formatted recipe which are made to please festival audiences. Adventureland has a very rare nostalgia and it is very simply a masterpiece. 

Writer and director Christos Nikou.
Writer and director Christos Nikou.

Another film I would like to mention is Anomalisa directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. In general, I am not a big fan of animated films, so I was never expecting an animated film to create so many emotions for me. You feel so much of the loneliness of the main character and it is so humane.

What are the Greek classics we should be adding to our watchlists?
I am not sure to be the right person to suggest Greek classic movies but the ones which really affected me are the following five films: Mihalis Kakogiannis’ Stella (1955), Alekos Alexandrakis’ Synoikia to Oneiro (1961), Takis Kanellopoulos’ Ouranos (1962), Nikos Papatakis’ Oi Voskoi (1967) and Renos Haralambidis’ Cheap Smokes (2000).

This release has been a long time coming for Apples. What was the best film you’ve discovered for the first time since your film’s premiere at Venice nearly two years ago?
I would choose The Worst Person in the World by Joachim Trier, as it distills something so romantic that I think we have lost in films recently. It has one of the best sequences I have seen recently: Julie and Eivind flirting at the party. And also Red Rocket by Sean Baker. It’s so beguiling and amazing how it creates such a complex and antagonistic character, Mikey Saber, who charms you—and you hate him for that.

Apples’ is now available on video on demand.

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