Science Can’t Contain True Love In Nikou’s Charming & Romantic English Language Debut
Big Data and artificial intelligence are already reshaping how we think about work and art. So, it’s only a matter of time before love is next on the list. Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou explores this notion with Fingernails, his gently futuristic, affectingly romantic English language debut that looks at the intersection of technology and relationships, and asks two key questions: Would you want a test to scientifically prove that you’re compatible with your partner? What’s the point of falling in love without the thrill of uncertainty?
These concerns aren’t initially a problem for Anna (Jessie Buckley), who has had her relationship with Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) affirmed by the painful diagnostic love test, which requires each partner to have a fingernail pulled and analyzed in a microwave-like device. However, she can’t help but feel that despite a certified, bonafide match with Ryan that something is static in their long term union. So without telling him, she quietly lands a job at the Love Institute, established and run by Duncan (Luke Wilson), who has perfected the procedure. Assigned to train and work alongside Amir (Riz Ahmed), the Institute’s star employee, Anna hopes she can learn the secrets behind a perfect pairing.
Couples come to the Love Institute where it is explained to Anna that the company’s goal is not to make them fall in love, but to “bring them closer together” before they take the test. It’s a fine line that’s often blurred. The exercises Anna and Amir lead their clients through in group sessions spark some of the film’s best laughs. Whether it’s standing in a room blindfolded trying to find your partner based on scent, singing French versions of songs at karaoke (because it’s the most romantic language), or even skydiving, the idea is to pull on the strings that brought each pair together and tighten that bond. However, it’s Anna and Amir who slowly find themselves inexplicably falling for each other, discovering that perhaps true love is messily, beautifully, imperfect and unquantifiable.
Unspooling like a cinematic cousin to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film relies on Buckley and Ahmed to carry its twin tones of aching longing and the fluttery warmth of attraction, and their chemistry is wonderful, sparking a truly electric charge from their low-key performances. Both Anna and Amir operate from different measures of reserve, with both trying to suppress the desire that is rising between them, but failing to keep the growing fondness they have for each other from surfacing. It plays across Buckley’s face, that illuminates like the brightest bulb when Anna is happy, or the shy smile Ahmed conjures for Amir when Anna brings him out of his shell. The magnetism between the pair grounds the film’s high concept and its a genuine pleasure to experience.
This palpable sensation of sincerity and earnestness carries across Fingernails, driven by the script by Nikou, Sam Steiner, and Stavros Raptis that understands that falling for someone usually isn’t the result of grand gestures. Whether its Anna watching Amir dance, or Amir seeing how Anna softly connects with other people, these are the small moments that can make one swoon just as much as Hugh Grant racing through the rain (a rom-com film festival dedicated to the actor — with the tagline No One Understands Love More — is another sly joke in the film).
Shot in gorgeous 35mm by Marcell Rév (best know for this collaborations with Sam Levison on HBO’s Euphoria and The Idol) the textured grain and dust make Fingernails resonate like an old photograph found in a shoebox. The magic trick of Nikou’s endearing film is that it acknowledges the paradox that “sometimes being in love is lonelier than being alone,” but also knows that each of us eternally yearns find someone to share that splendid pain with.
Reviewed on September 13th at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 113 Mins.