Fingernails: director Christos Nikou on modern dating and his Black Mirror-style love-test drama

In Fingernails, Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed play colleagues working at a Love Institute where couples must undergo a painful compatibility test. We swipe right with its Greek director, Christos Nikou.

Fingernails (2023)Apple TV+

Having made his feature debut with pandemic amnesia tale Apples (2020), Greek director Christos Nikou follows up with another leftfield sci-fi tinged drama, Fingernails. Making his English-language debut, Nikou presents a world in which couples can take a definitive test to find out if they are compatible in love, involving the removal of a fingernail from each party.

Partners who score 100% are a perfect match, 50 means only one of the pair is in love and zero, neither. Jessie Buckley plays erstwhile teacher Anna, who bags a job at the Love Institute where the tests are conducted. She’s already had a 100% test score with her partner Ryan (Jeremy Allan White) when she begins working with cool, smart colleague Amir (Riz Ahmed), an experienced conductor of the institute’s tests.

Nikou came up with this intriguing premise before writing the script with Sam Steiner and his Apples co-writer Stavros Raptis. Filming took place in Toronto and Hamilton, a few miles west along Lake Ontario, across 28 days in November and December 2022. Fingernails was shot on 35mm and lacks any of the sci-fi genre’s usual futuristic visuals. Discussing the film’s visual identity Nikou says: “We tried to create something that looks a little bit older and more timeless. It’s like we shot it at the end of the 90s and right now people are discovering it.”

He sat down at the BFI London Film Festival to talk through his own feelings about love, dating and his affection for an actual late 90s movie: The Truman Show (1998).

What was the starting point for the film?

I always try to understand why love is so difficult nowadays and has changed so much; how the younger generation are only going through dating apps in order to find the perfect match. They’re swiping right or left with their finger and their nail in order to find the ideal partner. But actually they’re letting an algorithm – an AI – suggest things to them. I feel that we need something more instinctive, to just follow our heart.

Swiping – is that where you came up with the idea for the fingernails?

Christos Nikou behind the scenes on Fingernails (2023)Apple TV+

Yes. Also, I think cell phones are extensions of our fingers somehow, all day they’re there. I don’t know if we have ever held something more in our life.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up? Check your phone?

Of course. Everybody’s doing the same, checking your phone all the time and touching a screen all the time. In the movie we’re trying to show that this love certification that they’re taking is like the wedding ring – how people are trying to prove that they are in love. But in real life, love is something that you need to work at.

If we had to take tests for love compatibility now, would you take one with your partner?

No, I don’t think so. That’s what we’re trying to say with the film: that we don’t need anybody to tell us if we are in love or not. We get so much outside input – I’m not talking only about what society tells us is right or wrong, but also our friends, our families. They’re affecting us when we’re meeting somebody. Like, “Oh, is that the right person?” But it’s you who will live with that person 24/7, not them. And you need to know that person well, and you need to follow only what you have in your heart and mind and soul.

What’s your own perspective on love?

Oh, I believe so much. I’m super romantic. That’s the problem. I don’t think that we [made the film] in a cynical way. People are desperate to find love. And for sure we are living in a crazy world. But at the same time, yes, it’s all we need.

Why did you make the test so painful for people?

Fingernails (2023)Apple TV+

Because love is painful sometimes, and we wanted to show that. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something in order to find the truth. People are desperate in this world to find something real. They’re trying to find it, but in their own way through technology.

You worked with Yorgos Lanthimos on Dogtooth (2009) and your films have been aligned with the Greek Weird Wave. Do you feel you’re part of any particular movement?

No. Of course, when you’re trying to describe something to the audience, you need to find some references. But I think that what we are trying to do is more similar to the movies that Charlie Kaufman [makes] or The Truman Show, which was the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker.

What do you like about it?

It’s an amazing prophecy about our life. It has the perfect balance between comedy and drama, and it has the kind of tone that I love, which I call melancholic smile tone. It shows how you can make a conceptual story, but super grounded. For me, that was so impressive.

Fingernails screened at the 67th BFI London Film Festival and opens in UK cinemas and on Apple TV+ on 3 November 2023.

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