‘Fingernails’ First Look: Jessie Buckley Is Torn Between Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White in Sci-Fi Romance
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Fingernails’ Is a Sci-Fi Romance Without Cell Phones — Hear from the Director Why, and Watch an Exclusive Clip

‘Fingernails’ Is a Sci-Fi Romance Without Cell Phones — Hear from the Director Why, and Watch an Exclusive Clip

‘Fingernails’ First Look: Jessie Buckley Is Torn Between Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White in Sci-Fi Romance

Christos Nikou’s “Fingernails,” one of the buzziest films to premiere on the fall festival circuit this year, explores the problem with love in a recognizable world just slightly off its axis — that’s precisely because the “Apples” director, for his second feature, eschews any use of cell phones or 21st century onscreen technology.

Jessie Buckley plays Anna, a woman who’s comfortable and content but perhaps unchallenged by her relationship with sweet husband Ryan (Jeremy Allen White). They’ve mainly stayed together for a handful of years because of a test developed by The Love Institute, which uses a simple technology to determine if a couple is actually in love, and if you’re with the person you’re supposed to be.

“Fingernails” sounds like heady sci-fi on the surface, but its premise is pretty simple: Submit yourself to a research facility that rips you and your lover’s fingernails off, which are then put in what basically resembles a microwave, and the results of the data determine how in love you really are. That’s because, as the movie posits in an opening preamble attributed to an unknown scientist, troubles of the heart are located in the nailbed.

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When Anna takes a job at the Love Institute, run by an eccentric Luke Wilson, she participates in the partnership-building exercises that help couples decide if they’re truly meant for each other before they take the final test, which has stewed some fear in Anna and Ryan’s social circle. Meanwhile, Anna is falling for her charming colleague Amir (Riz Ahmed), causing her to wonder how failsafe the Love Institute’s test really is, and if it’s possible to be in love with two people at once.

Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou gives IndieWire the first interview ahead of his English-language debut’s festival run and upcoming Apple premiere. Also, below, check out an exclusive clip from the film. “Fingernails” premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. Apple will release it in limited theaters October 27 before “Fingernails” streams on Apple TV+ November 3.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

IndieWire: What intrigued me most about this movie is the minimalism of the technology. We don’t see any cellphones, and what the Love Institute uses to determine its data is almost like a microwave. What was your inspiration for the practical approach here?

Christos Nikou: In general, we tried to create something that looks a bit more timeless in a way and maybe takes place — we don’t know exactly when it takes place, maybe ‘90s, early 2000s, when technology was not so omnipresent in our lives. We were trying to make a comment on how people are trying to connect more and find love through internet and technology and dating apps. We tried to keep the only technological device in the film to be this testing machine that looks like a microwave, like something that you have to cook in order to find love.

Cell phones tend to limit the capacity for drama and intrigue in a contemporary movie. Why did you want to eliminate them altogether?

It would have been much easier, for example, if we would just have everybody with cell phones in order to make that comment, but I believe it’s much stronger with the absence of technology. At the same time, I’m not a big fan, as you said, of movies that use cell phones on their screens and that’s a way that people communicate. What we are trying to say with the movie is that everything is in our mind.

How would you describe the world or location this film takes place in? It feels out of step with time and there’s little tangible about it to ground us to a real-world location.

We shot the movie in Toronto, and the reason why was because we were trying to create a world where we don’t know exactly, a city we don’t know exactly, something unrecognizable and more generic. It is in our world but we don’t know exactly where.

Cate Blanchett through Dirty Films is one of the producers on “Fingernails.” How did she get involved?

She first reached out to me when we arrived in Venice for the world premiere of “Apples.” I received a message from my agent that Cate had just watched the movie in the morning screenings, and she wants to have a breakfast with you one of the next days. We met there, and Cate expressed to me how “Apples” was one of the best films of the last years, and she wanted to play in the next film. But I already had a treatment for the next film, “Fingernails,” and I didn’t have a role for her. So she became a producer.

Carey Mulligan was originally attached to play Anna before stepping out due to scheduling conflicts. What drew you to Jessie Buckley?

We started searching for who would the best person for this role, and I love all the performances of Jessie. Of course, I love so much “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Charlie Kaufman but I also loved her first performance, in “Wild Rose.”

You shoot the film on 35mm with cinematographer Marcell Rév. Was that a pipe dream that came to fruition, or part of your original pitch?

I wanted to do it with “Apples” and we didn’t have the money. Here, I wasn’t taking it out of the contract. I said, “This has to be only on film.” When we’re trying to create something that looks a little more timeless, it’s more powerful shooting on film.

I’m an old-fashioned person (…) I call the ’90s the last decade of film because it’s before all the technology and internet being so much in our lives. You remember a bit the time we didn’t have a cell phone, I’m sure, how it was when you were meeting with your friends and nobody knows exactly where you were all the time, nobody could find you everywhere. I love that time.


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