Love is pain in several ways in Fingernails. In the near future of Christos Nikou’s dystopian sci-fi film, they’ve gotten compatibility down to a science. To measure your affection, you and your partner can each have a fingernail pulled, which will then be put into a machine, testing whether either, neither, or both of you are truly in love. While Nikou never gives us the exact science behind this testing or why a scientist couldn’t think of a less invasive or agonizing way of measuring whether this is just a fling, the existential panic felt by the inhabitants of this world is enough to pull you along.
Anna (Jessie Buckley) certainly believes in true love. An unemployed schoolteacher, Anna takes a job as an instructor at the Love Institute founded by Dunan (an aloof yet aching Luke Wilson). He founded the center just under a year ago to train people by way of shock therapy and underwater exercises for the test. An idealist, Anna enthusiastically partners with the institute’s top instructor, the stoic and forlorn Amir (Riz Ahmed), to counsel these couples. Working in close proximity, Anna and Amir begin to fall for each other, and with each furtive glance they share, Anna questions her marriage with Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) more and more. It’s a perplexing turn of events because Anna and Ryan took the fingernail test three years ago; they’re a perfect match. So why is she suddenly overwhelmed by Amir?
Nikou’s follow-up to “Apples”—a film similarly concerned with the sudden unraveling of personal truths—fits well with fellow Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster.” While both directors rely on the same dry wit and stilted expression of emotion to examine what people will sacrifice for love, with “Fingernails,” Nikou is rebelling against the notion of monogamy or long-term relationships. The anxiety here actually arises from the fear of wasting your time in a partnership that doesn’t work simply because of the commitment society demands from marriage.
It’s a fascinating mix of emotions that you wish Nikou took further. Of the dozen or so couples we see come through the institute, for instance, only one is gay, making for a limited heteronormative view of relationships. Nikou also takes very little interest in class. Through dialogue, we learn that the test is quite expensive. Does that mean a whole segment of the populace isn’t taking the test because it costs so much? Also, are political figures getting their fingernails yanked? While Nikou’s goal to solely focus on Anna and Amir initially engenders intimacy, it very quickly drifts into being myopic.