The Fingernails director on how “love isn’t something you prove”

Christos Nikou, the director of the film starring Jessie Buckley and and Riz Ahmed talks to woo about love in the modern day

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

Christos Nikou, the director of the film starring Jessie Buckley and and Riz Ahmed talks to woo about love in the modern day

By Darshita Goyal03 Nov 2023
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

Tests to confirm love have been documented for decades, they’ve probably existed for aeons. From taking your chances with loves-me-loves-me-not flowers and reading weekly love tarot to obsessing over Buzzfeed compatibility quizzes and signing marriage certificates. Every few years, the structure of the test may change but the purpose stays the same: to prove whether you’re the undivided object of another person’s love and adoration.

In his new film Fingernails, Greek director Christos Nikou explores this theme of desperately seeking confirmation and tangible proof of someone’s love. Set in what echoes the ‘70s – phones are corded to the wall and houses seem to carry an almost black and white quaintness – the story centres around the work of The Love Institute, an organisation that promises to show couples whether or not they’re in love with each other. How you may wonder? Through their fingernails, of course. In a gory turn of events, one entire fingernail is pulled out from each partner and thrown into a ghastly machine that resembles a shaky microwave.

Within seconds, the machine spits out results, a 100 percent implies both partners are in love and the couple is a success story. A 50 percent, on the other hand, implies poetic unrequited love while a 0 percent says the relationship is for gags and must come to an end. Despite how bizarre the process sounds, the inhabitants of the film’s era take the test very seriously. Anna (played by Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (played by Jeremy Allen White) are among the lucky few who could prove their love through the test.

Their quantifiably successful love serves as the ideal that other couples must strive to. So it’s a little surprising when Anna, who works at The Love Institute, slowly but surely falls for her colleague Amir (played by Riz Ahmed). As the movie progresses, Anna and Amir, flag bearers for the test’s prowess, begin to question its legitimacy. Can one person have a 100 percent result with two other people? The film’s concepts denounce non-monogamy so in that case, does this imply the test is… full of shit?

Unsurprisingly, the big test is a metaphor for human society’s dependence on external approval. Whether it’s proving the extent of your love through marriage and money or arbitrary algorithmic matches where a dating app tells you who’s the best fit. Below, woo sat down with Nikou to understand why this was the story about love that he wanted to share.

Why did you choose fingernails as the part of the body that proves love?

Christos: We're trying to make a direct comment on how people are going through technology to find love, and also how they're using their fingers to swipe right or left to find the perfect match on dating apps. Cell phones have somehow become an extension of our fingers. Even the love certificate that the couples are holding reminds me a little bit of marriage and how people put a ring on their finger to prove that they’re in love. But love is not something that you have to prove, you need to work on it every day.

Is that what we see with Ryan? It feels like he’s settled into a complacency once he and Anna get a positive result.

Christos: Exactly, they both settled into a routine after getting a positive result. Especially Ryan, he wasn’t trying at all to improve his relationship because he didn’t think it was needed. We wanted to show how that doesn’t work out and a certificate, like marriage, doesn’t make things frozen in time or permanent.

In many ways, the over reliance on the test feels like our over reliance on technology to find love. What should be done differently today?

Christos: Honestly I don’t love dating apps. My issue with them is that most people want to know everything about the person that they’re about to meet beforehand, this completely takes away the surprise when we meet someone. Also, let’s say you’re texting someone for two weeks, you’ve already spoken so much that when you meet in person there’s no chemistry, the spark is lost online. I think we need to move away from seeing a person through the screen and get back to seeing them in their eyes, feel their presence and energy. That’s how we will instinctively understand how we feel, we need to stop projecting and fantasising things based on experiences through the screen. They can be so different for two people and that scares me.

The exercises that the Love Institute made the couples do before taking the test were really intriguing. Why did you choose them as the flag bearers of love?

Christos: We purposely chose stereotypical ways of romance because we want to highlight what society has taught us of love. We want to poke fun at how reductively we understand it sometimes. Like how French is the most erotic language, rain makes people feel romantic or if you jump off a plane with someone then you really trust them. If I’m being honest, the only exercise from the film that I’d love to do would be the one when one half of the couple is blindfolded and they have to find their partner through their smell. I love the idea of that, it also shows us how we can go a lifetime living with someone and still may not have paid attention to what their fragrance is.

The movie really brings out this desperation to be in love, it’s a world where couples get discounts for just existing.

Christos: I wanted to bring out how we’re so afraid to be alone today. At the end, Anna says, “sometimes being in love is lonelier than being alone”, which is very true. We need to slow down, it’s not the most important thing to find the perfect match or to find love.

The end is a bit gory but also sad. Why do Anna and Amir give up on the test?

Christos: It’s a reminder that everything doesn’t have to be perfect in the eyes of society for it to exist. The test was created by someone outside but that’s not how love makes sense, it has to be perfect in our hearts not on some machine. Also there’s no guarantee that if it’s positive it will never hurt, we wanted to show that often love hurts but that’s fine, it’s also fun and amazing.

Why was it important for you to have a comical tone in the movie?

Christos: I’m not a big fan of films that take themselves too seriously. We wanted to create something where people can laugh and cry, and experience all these different emotions. I also believe you can hide a lot of depth in between these comedic moments and add layers to conversations that would otherwise seem far too cynical.

Who is the film for and what do you hope the audience takes away from it?

Christos: Honestly I’m not sure who the audience is, I’ve never been good at guessing that but I would say it’s more for romantic people. It’s definitely not for cynical viewers, it’ll be frustrating for them. And I hope that when people watch Fingernails they question a lot of routines in their lives and about their own experiences. I hope they understand that love isn’t something that you prove or get a certificate for, it’s something you put work into day after day. I wish people would keep these thoughts with them long after the credits are rolling.

Fingernails releases in select cinemas and streams globally on Apple TV+ from November 3