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Character Study with ‘Apples’ Filmmaker Christos Nikou

Christos Nikou speaks with Script about his feature directorial debut, how and when this story idea came to be, his interest in character studies and the creative choices behind the aspect ratio, and much more.

Amidst a worldwide pandemic that causes sudden amnesia, middle-aged Aris (Aris Servetalis) finds himself enrolled in a recovery program designed to help unclaimed patients build new identities. Prescribed daily tasks on cassette tapes so he can create new memories and document them on camera, Aris slides back into ordinary life, meeting Anna (Sofia Georgovasili), a woman who is also in recovery. Through images deadpan, strange and surreal, Greek writer-director Christos Nikou posits a beguiling reflection on memory, identity, and loss, exploring how a society might handle an irreversible epidemic through one man’s story of self-discovery.

Are we the sum of the images we compile and display of ourselves, or are we something richer, and deeper?

Apples is a slow-burn mental exploration as we go on an emotionally rich and satisfying journey with the film's central character Aris. The simplicity brings out a medley of tangled thoughts and memories that leaves the viewer deciding what is the truth and what is worth remembering - as co-writer and director Christos Nikou simply states, "It’s the battle between oranges and apples." After viewing the film, you can easily sense the great filmmakers that have influenced Christos as a filmmaker, but his approach to storytelling and character development is uniquely his own.

I had the utmost pleasure of speaking with Greek filmmaker Christos about his feature directorial debut, how and when this story idea came to be, his interest in character studies and the creative choices behind the aspect ratio, and much more. 

Aris Servetalis as Aris in APPLES. Courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Aris Servetalis as Aris in APPLES. Courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: What was the initial seed for this story for you? Was it more about the idea of amnesia or maybe a character dealing with his own personal struggle and wanting to forget the past?

Christos Nikou: It was the second one, to be honest. It was a time when I was dealing with the loss of my father. And I was trying to understand in general how our memory functions and if our memory is selective and how we can erase something from our memory that hurt us and how we can move on in our life. Somehow, I think that we are our memories. So, all these questions were on my mind, and I tried to transfer my personal thoughts in a more universal story and create this world by trying to put all my thoughts in the position of the main character. What if he's dealing with something deeper, and he's trying to understand his position in this world?

Sadie: Yeah, and the fact that he makes this choice, not to go into spoiler territory. When you and co-writer Stavros Raptis, who is also the casting directing, were writing this, was the actor Aris Servetalis always in mind to play your character Aris?

Christos: Yes, it was always with the Aris in our mind. I worked with him in a short film that I directed earlier, and we decided at that time to work again together. I knew already how good he is with his body performance and how he can perform in a physical way. We try to take advantage of that and write a lot of scenes that were using that. So, everything in the script - the whole part of Aris was written for him.

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Sadie: There’s a scene that I love that definitely makes use of Aris’ physicality as a performer where he goes to the hospital to visit an elderly person, and that wide shot of him standing on his heels. It's so physical, but it says so much about his character.

Christos: Exactly. It is something that I always love - these things that are very, very simple, but also very unusual to see them in a film. They look a little bit more off. But at the same time for me, as you said, it shows a lot about the character that really cares about everything and he's careful to keep it clean.

Sadie: He's very mindful about everything that he does. And going back to Stavros as your co-writer, what was that process like for the two of you in tapping into the personal part of the storytelling but also setting a foundation, especially with this film not being dialogue heavy or dependent?

Christos: Stavros is not only the co-writer of the film, but he’s also my best friend - so it becomes very easy to start working with him. I already had the structure of the film in my mind. I remember that I wrote a two-page synopsis of the film, and I sent it to him, and I asked him if he wants to co-write. Whenever we had time, we're brainstorming, and then I was going back home and writing alone, a lot of things in the script. And so, it was more about how to build these goals and to go through scene by scene in order to create this main character's journey.


Sadie: What was the creative decision behind shooting in this very specific aspect ratio, and just the camera blocking? Was that something that you came in ahead of time with or was that something that you developed over time with your cinematographer Bartosz Swiniarski?

Christos: We worked of course, together on many things, and we decided many things together. But it was also my idea from the beginning that I wanted to shoot in four by three in this aspect ratio as it is not only related to Polaroid cameras, and the aspect ratio of Polaroids but also, the whole movie has a nostalgic approach. And then it's also the portrait ratio. This portrait ratio was used mostly in other kinds of films in the last 10 years or 15 years, like in Andrea Arnold movies that are about social topics. And I wanted to create something that looks more conceptual, but with a portrait ratio so that we focus more on the main character, and not exactly on the world that we're creating. And we're making more of a character study, and that we show the whole world through his eyes.

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Sadie: The 4:3 aspect ratio definitely gives this sense of confinement within his world and his point of view. I'm curious about your filmmaking journey, what inspired you to become a filmmaker yourself?

Christos: I was always watching films since I can remember. I was going, for example, to the video store renting thousands [laughs] of movies, and then always going to movies in theaters watching movies. And at the age of 14, I remember for the first time, I watched The Truman Show and I loved that film so much - about the tone, about the creativity, about the script, and about how they created the whole world in that way, that I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. Since 16, I started writing scripts. I'm still watching a lot of films. I'm trying to watch at least one movie per day. Not three, like in the past, but I mean, I don't have the time anymore. [laughs] I don't think that I could do very easily something else in my life. I think that when I discovered the world of cinema, somehow, I realized that I wanted to live in this world.

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Sadie: Are there certain themes or stories that you're wanting to explore more through your storytelling?

Christos: I'm always trying to find something is coming from something personal and personal thoughts. And then I always try to transfer it in something more universal. And how actually to create the world of the film and more through analogy to make some comments about our society. To ask some existential questions, to the audience, and to have a dialogue with them, even if I'm not trying, I think to give answers on these topics. I think that more I'm trying to ask questions, because I'm not actually the God that knows how our memory works. The most important for me is to find the right tone for films. I love when films can combine different genres or create a cocktail of emotions. And that's what we try to do in Apples and will try also in Fingernails. I love when the audience can laugh and cry, maybe at the same time. I love it also as viewer.

Apples is available only in Theaters June 24, 2022.

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