Love is painful and illogical in Christos Nikou’s bittersweet romance Fingernails — an almost-dystopian dissection of romantic compatibility and the everyday loneliness of staying in love with your chosen one. Rather than going for cheap laughs, this is a film driven more by the — sometimes doomed — romanticism of lonely souls, trying to find their place.
Jessie Buckley plays Anna with deeply felt but never forced emotion, as she tries to find the lost spark of her very serious, very steady relationship with Ryan (few men have better portrayed emotional un-intelligence than Jeremy Allen White). They take a test at the controversial ‘Love Institute’, in which ripping off your fingernail and that of your partner can determine if you really are in love with one another. It comes back positive for Anna and Ryan — but what does it mean if you can’t feel anything?
Anna takes matters into her own hands by secretly getting a job at the Love Institute to understand her feelings, or lack thereof. But there, something resolutely unscientific makes things tricky: she slowly, but surely, catches feelings for her co-worker Amir (Riz Ahmed on sensitive, compelling form).
Cut from the same cloth as Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist romance The Lobster, Nikou’s sophomore feature earns its heartbreak through vulnerable, all-in performances from the main trio as well as a carefully chosen supporting cast (hello, Luke Wilson!) that find ways to acknowledge the peculiarity of the situation without ever belittling anyone’s genuine anxieties.
It’s far-fetched until it isn’t: Nikou knows when to zoom in on real melancholy and uncertainty, and question romance understood in any era, any society. Some moments feel familiar because these age-old questions about love will never really be answered — we’ll just keep finding new ways to ask them.