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Christos Nikou Interview: Memory, Loss, and Love in Greek Hit “Apples”

Christos Nikou, Apples
Director Christos Nikou/Courtesy of Christos Nikou, “Apples”

Christos Nikou is the up and coming Greek director behind the film “Apples”, currently representing Greece in the Oscars International Feature race.

Though the shortlist for the International Feature category hasn’t yet been announced, “Apples” has already made a splash around the world. The film got rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival, with Cate Blanchett coming on to the project as an executive producer.

Recently, entertainment outlets announced that Christos Nikou will be making his English-language film debut with “Fingernails”. The movie will star A-lister Carey Mulligan, currently an awards nominee frontrunner. Blanchett will also be on board producing the film.

We sat down for an interview with Christos Nikou to talk about his film, his work, and what life looks like after “Apples”.

Tell us a little about your life in the industry so far. How did you learn filmmaking?

I’m actually self-taught. I haven’t studied filmmaking, but I’ve been writing scripts since I was 16. I was inspired to become a director ever since I saw “The Truman Show” as a teenager.

While studying economics, I was trying to find films to work on to gain experience. I read about the filming of “Dogtooth”, called the producer and asked to work on the set with the director, Yorgos Lanthimos. For some strange reason, they hired me. It was my first job, and I’ve been working ever since. I’ve been an assistant director on eight films, directed my own short, and simultaneously been writing scripts the whole time.

So “Apples” is the first feature film you’ve written and directed. What inspired it?

Yes, it’s the first feature. I always liked films that played with the rules of society, films that were allegories. In “Apples”, we’ve posited a world where many people have been affected by an illness that makes them forget.

It was a personal film for me, as I was dealing with my father’s death at the time. I was trying to process the situation by trying to understand how people can forget so easily, how  selective peoples’ memories are, how people end up forgetting things that cause them pain. If at the end of the day, people are just a collection of memories, a collection of the things we don’t forget.

These were all the questions floating around my head. I tried to create a world in which I could examine these questions, and my main character has to work through such issues.

I’ve included a fair amount of ambiguity in the film, so people can draw their own conclusions based on what we’ve shown. It’s a film about memory, about loss, about love, depending on how you look at it.

Talk to us about your collaboration with lead actor Aris Servetalis.

Apples Still Aris Servetalis
Still from “Apples” with Aris Servetalis/Courtesy of Christos Nikou, “Apples”

When I was writing the script I actually had Aris Servetalis in mind. He was my first choice for the role.

As we started working together, I told him to watch some films from French filmmaker Jacques Tati, to get an idea of some of the body language I had in mind. Also two Jim Carrey films, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Truman Show”, because I thought the logic of those movies was somewhat similar to what we were trying to do.

He gave an amazing performance that I think really served the movie.

How did the collaboration with Cate Blanchett come about?

When we were at the Venice Film Festival, I had just signed with CAA, who also represented Cate Blanchett. She saw the film in Venice and asked for a meeting with me via her agents. So we met up and ended up talking about our lives and cinema for a while.

After that we continued talking, and it then became a professional collaboration when she signed on as executive producer.

When “Apples” was picked to represent Greece for the International Feature category in the Oscars, how did you feel?

It was wonderful news, but by that time we had received such positive feedback at Venice and overall, that we were already pretty sure “Apples” would be representing Greece before it was announced.

Of course, we hope it gets shortlisted for the Oscars; that would be amazing. The most important thing is that this will enable the film to travel more widely around the world.

By now it has done very well in terms of festival runs. I believe it’s already one of the most successful Greek films, with distribution in 60 countries. For me that’s very important because it boosts the visibility of Greek cinema around the world.

After “Dogtooth” came out, people internationally were taking a closer look at Greek projects. I hope “Apples”‘ success can do the same thing, and increase world demand for Greek movies.

Apples Behind the Scenes
Behind the scenes of “Apples”/Courtesy of Christos Nikou, “Apples”

What are the challenges for Greek films in the international market?

First of all, I think the budget is definitely a big hurdle to overcome, to create films for the international market. Our film budget was $250,000, and it was even challenging for us to create what we wanted.

I also think the subject matter we tend to choose creates some issues for international audiences. We either tend to focus our stories on very local subjects, intended towards a local market, or people tend to go a very indie, arthouse route that’s not necessarily accessible to mainstream audiences.

I think “Apples” definitely has arthouse features, but also flirts with more mainstream topics and narrative choices.

Strangely enough, the film takes place during a kind of pandemic. Do you think that affects how people might be receiving “Apples” today?

It’s so strange because the film was made in the beginning of 2019, way before this pandemic started.

“Apples” premiering during a pandemic is interesting, because there are pros and cons to it being released now. There are themes of loss and isolation in the film that I feel audiences can definitely relate to more during a pandemic, because a lot of us are dealing with those issues to a larger extent at this time.

The cons, however, are that “Apples”, like almost all films in 2020, can’t be distributed and have premieres as it would in a normal year. As a director, I’m trying to understand and gauge audience reaction, but I’m not going to premieres and seeing live feedback. Instead, people are watching “Apples” on their laptops at home. I was relying on the messages people were sending me in response to the film.

What was one of the most unforgettable responses you got to “Apples” via these messages?

Apples Dancing Scene
Dancing scene from “Apples”/Courtesy of Christos Nikou, “Apples”

One woman messaged me that after she saw the film she went out on the street and spontaneously started dancing to “Let’s Twist Again”. This is from a fun scene in the movie where the lead character lets himself go for a bit and allows himself to live in the moment.

Even though it’s by no means the deepest response I got, I really enjoyed hearing that someone had that joyful, spontaneous reaction right after watching “Apples”.

What’s your next project?

I’m actually working on something right now that we hope to go into production on within the next year. I will be working with Sam Steiner, who is a British playwright. It’s an English-language feature, but I can’t talk about it too much because it’s being publicized soon by Deadline.

[After the interview took place the announcement was made that the film was “Fingernails”, starring Carey Mulligan].

There are also some discussions happening about other possible features and series, but I haven’t decided on anything concrete yet. However, a lot of opportunities have opened up, and “Apples” has given me the chance to work on stories and with actors I wouldn’t have dreamed of before.

See the trailer for “Apples” below:

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