Every year, attending film festivals in Chicago, Texas, Colorado and elsewhere, there is often a pattern that emerges for that year’s films. Sometimes, it’s a similarity of titles. Sometimes, it’s a similarity of theme.
In 1984 there was “The River” and “Places in the Heart,” two movies about families losing the family farm. One starred Sissy Spacek and the other featured Sally Field, with America’s farm crisis taking center stage. That thematic refrain has echoed through the decades.
In 2018, at the Chicago Film Festival, the big theme was drug addiction, with “Beautiful Boy” (Timothy Chalamet) and “Diane” (Mary Kay Place) dealing with the opioid crisis in the U.S.
In 2019, the theme that more than one film covered was Death Row. We had Alfre Woodard’s “Clemency,” with Alfre as a prison warden tasked with carrying out the execution of a Death Row inmate, and “Just Mercy,” with Jamie Foxx as a convicted prisoner on Death Row and Michael B. Jordan working to free this innocent man.
So, what is the Topic Du Jour in 2020?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the topic is epidemics that come out of nowhere and strike without warning. But what the epidemics cause is different from real-life horror stories like “Contagion.”
This year, the pandemic that is sweeping the multiplex, afflicting people at random is amnesia. In both “Apples,” a Greek film, and “Little Fish,” we have people who are losing their memories and their minds. I didn’t like “Apples,” the film that showed at both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver Film Festival, because it tried to play the theme as humorous, when losing our knowledge of who we are is anything but humorous. Still, in Chicago “Apples won the Silver Hugo for Best Screenplay.
“Little Fish,” directed by Chad Hartigan and based on a short story by Aja Gabel which Gabel and Mattson Tomlin crafted into a screenplay, is a love story between Emma (Olivia Cooke of “Ready Player One” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Jack O’Connell (2014’s “Unbroken” and “Seberg”).
Called NIA, Neural Information Affliction, at first people simply forgot to stop running a marathon or abandoned the bus they were driving in the middle of the street. Over time, more and more people began to forget their loved ones and pilots forgot how to fly and crashed.
The plot focuses on the romance between Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) and their friendship with another couple, Ben (Raul Castillo) and Samantha (Soko). As Ben, a musician, is losing his memories, he strikes out and becomes violent, ultimately destroying his relationship with Samantha.
Emma and Jude are determined not to let his memory loss ruin their relationship. Jude even qualifies for a pilot program that will try an experimental method called Oral Cranium Puncture, where a hole is surgically drilled in the top of one’s mouth into the brain cavity. When Ben is turned down for the experimental treatment because he tests positive for cocaine, he talks Emma, a veterinarian, into trying the method on him herself. That adds drama and intensity to the simple retelling of people losing their minds, but, ultimately, neither film could figure out how to come to a satisfactory “ending.”
The cinematography by Sean McElwee (some nice aerial shots and great scenery) is good, the acting is more than good, and Josh Crockett has done a fine job editing the film, but, ultimately, the failure to stick the landing hurt both “Apples” and “Little Fish.”