Fingernails – London Film Festival 2023 – Film Review
The way to the heart is through the stomach or, in the case of Christos Nikou’s latest film, the fingernails. Fingernails, is Nikou’s second film, following Apples, which equally straddles elements of the absurd within its unique take on human emotions within romantic relationships. Fingernails is Nikou’s English language debut and a thoroughly impressive, unique take on the human condition illustrating that he has a lot to say re human interaction and the very essence of our humanity. Whereas Apples focused on amnesia fuelled grief, Fingernails focuses on love with a sci-fi blend as it poses the question whether scientific research and controlled activities can truly predict success within love. This highly compelling and intriguing premise is bolstered by the star quality of the principal trio of actors – Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and the latest rising star Jeremy Allen White, of The Bear fame.
Whilst the concept of employing technology and scientific approaches to navigate romance may not be novel, we’ve certainly all tried a dating app or watched reality TV shows such as Married at First Sight, taking a test to prove the strength of commitment in a relationship sounds extreme. Or is it? Perhaps this test offers a risk-free, emotionless way to leave redundant relationships that reveal low test ratings but equally reassures those with positive tests of the unwavering strength of their love.
The question arises as to why one would wish to take such a test as uncertainty and messiness are seemingly key components of human relationships. However, some personalities may prefer that scientific intervention to create certainty. The film, without doubt, creates that inward reflection as to the life choices available should the technology be invented. Given that life seems to imitate art, particularly within the current artificial intelligence discourse, such fictional elements could become a reality. Surely, there must be a catch, you may wonder. Well, as both pleasure and pain co-exist within romance, Fingernails also replicates that sensation of pain with its novel technology to test love.
Despite having an absurdist sci-fi concept, some techniques are familiar to those currently advocated within dating workshops or life coaching sessions, which people willingly purchase and consume. Love is a very profitable commodity for corporations such as Match.com and Hinge. Still, the human interest story remains at the heart to captivate. Fingernails, in this sense, is that critique on love as a science alongside being a humorous rom-com, with amusing references to traditionally romantic films.
Jessie Buckley is superb as Anna, who is in a committed relationship with Ryan (Jeremy Allen-White) but she remains curious and invested within the lives of others and catches apples, alluding to Nikou’s first film – Apples, single-handedly by night. Her compassion, within her dating institute job, is obvious with Buckley’s charismatic smile. Buckley’s Anna is enraptured when relationship exercises go well at work, and will endear audiences. A winning combination of showcasing Buckley’s singing talent, and her character Anna’s emotional displays indicate that Nikou has created the perfect recipe to fall in love. Indeed, Anna’s workplace sells those romantic dreams with posters on the wall stating ‘Je Rêve de Toi’ thus emphasising Nikou’s exceptional attention to detail.
Fingernails, therefore, pits this concept of emotions against the science whilst Anna works alongside Amir (charmingly played by Riz Ahmed). The film questions those components necessary for love, reminiscent of the 2015 New York Times article regarding the essay by Mandy Len Catron exploring the intimacy landscape with those 36 questions that lead to love based on the psychological research conducted by Arthur Aron et al in the 1990s. Fingernails thus feels both nostalgic and futuristic in its cinematography and approach to examining love and intimacy. But, there is no doubt as to the undeniable chemistry between the actors, which science cannot replicate.
Vicariously through Anna, Fingernails demonstrates that, despite relationship perfection being the ultimate goal, mundane interactions with the inevitable creep of ennui may surface. Nikou seems to query whether humans should continue to accept the status quo in those scenarios. Undoubtedly, Fingers will provoke contemplation due to Nikou’s skilful direction and the excellent editing recreating dreamy aesthetics.
Fingernails advocates the need to have a questioning mind, combined with a desire to avoid complacency. These sentiments are likely to resonate with many, in various stages of relationships, romantic or platonic. Fingernails’ primary focus may be on the romantic elements, but its philosophy transcends to apply within many facets of life, thereby providing a tool for self-development and a desire to seek the potential.
Nikou is proving himself to be a director keen to embrace risks with a multi-layered, genre-bending, enjoyable film. Fingernails may not be to everyone’s taste, and has slow pacing, but cements Nikou’s position within the Greek New Wave genre as a visionary director, with inevitable comparisons to Yorgos Lanthimos (director of Poor Things). Fingernails’ ability to both entice and rattle audience expectation beyond the veneer of predictability will firmly establish Nikou as an auteur in the making.