A tender love story is placed atop a contrived and quirkified sci-fi premise in this new movie from Greek director Christos Nikou, whose debut feature, the metaphysical mystery Apples, was much admired. However the speculative conceit of Fingernails makes the film play like an absurdist comedy from which the absurdist comedy has been edited out, to be replaced with a serious emotional yearning, which is always being deconstructed and ironised by its bizarre narrative context.
In this future society, or perhaps a different version of the present or recent past, we see the use of old-fashioned cameras and landline phones. Jessie Buckley portrays Hannah, a teacher in a steady but uneventful relationship with Ryan, played by Jeremy Allen White. Their relationship has been confirmed by the Love Institute, led by disheveled and preoccupied scientist Duncan (Luke Wilson), which employs advanced testing methods to determine the authenticity of a couple’s love through biological samples.
But these samples are fingernails. Both partners have to submit to the agonising process of having a fingernail extracted and placed in a ridiculous microwave device. This may be a metaphor for the agony of thinking about love. Or it may have something to do with fingernail-malformation as a first sign of heart disease – an un-fun fact from the real world to which the film coyly alludes in the opening credits. Or it could just be part of the overall furniture of weirdness.
Hannah secures a job at the institute without informing Ryan and becomes enamored with Amir (Riz Ahmed), a sensitive new scientist who has innovative ideas about improving and understanding romantic relationships. This includes conducting experiments on audiences while they watch the “I’m just a girl” scene from Notting Hill. Hannah begins to question whether she should put her feelings for Amir to the test using the institute’s supposedly foolproof techniques, which requires the audience to believe (or ignore their doubts) in order to fully invest in their love story. The superb acting is what holds this somewhat implausible plot together.