Christos Niku’s “Fingernails,” one of the most hyped films to premiere at this year’s fall festival, explores the problem of love in a recognizable world just slightly off-axis—that’s precisely because the “Apples” director, for his second feature film eschews any use of cell phones or 21st century screen technology.
Jessie Buckley plays Anna, a woman who is comfortable and content but perhaps unchallenged by her relationship with sweet husband Ryan (Jeremy Allen White). They’ve stayed together for several years mainly because of a test developed by The Love Institute that uses simple technology to determine if a couple is truly in love and if you’re with the person you’re meant to be.
Claws sounds like heady sci-fi on the surface, but its premise is pretty simple: subject yourself to a research facility that rips off you and your lover’s nails, which are then placed in what practically looks like a microwave oven, and the results of the data determine how much you are truly in love. This is because, as the film states at the beginning of the preamble, attributed to an unknown scientist, problems of the heart lie at the core.
When Anna starts work at the Love Institute, run by the eccentric Luke Wilson, she takes part in partnership-building exercises that help couples decide if they’re really made for each other before taking the final test, which has smothered some fear in the social round of Anna and Ryan. Meanwhile, Anna falls in love with her charming colleague Amir (Riz Ahmed), which makes her wonder how reliable the Love Institute test really is and whether it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time.
Greek director Christos Nikou gives the first interview to IndieWire ahead of the festival of his English-language debut and the upcoming Apple premiere. Plus, check out an exclusive clip from the film below. Nails premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Apple will release it in limited theaters on October 27 before “Fingernails” airs on Apple TV+ on November 3.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
IndieWire: What intrigued me most about this film was the minimalism of the technology. We don’t see any cell phones, and what the Love Institute uses to determine its data is almost like a microwave oven. What was your inspiration for the hands-on approach here?
Christ Niku: Overall, we tried to create something that felt a little more timeless in a way, and maybe it takes place – we don’t know exactly when it takes place, maybe in the 90s, early 2000s, when technology wasn’t as ubiquitous in our life. We were trying to comment on how people are trying to connect more and find love through the 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 you have to cook to find love.
Cell phones tend to limit the capacity for drama and intrigue in a modern film. Why did you want to remove them completely?
It would be much easier, for example, if we just had everyone with cell phones to make this comment, but I believe it’s much stronger with the lack 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 how people communicate. What we’re trying to say with the film is that it’s all in our mind.
How would you describe the world or setting in which this film takes place? We feel out of step with time and there is little tangible about it to ground us to a place in the real world.
We shot the movie in Toronto and the reason was that we were trying to create a world that we don’t really know, a city that we don’t really know, something unrecognizable and more generic. It’s in our world, but we don’t know exactly where.
Cate Blanchett through Dirty Films is one of the producers of Fingernails. How did she get involved?
She approached me for the first time when we arrived in Venice for the world premiere of Apples. I got a message from my agent that Kate just saw the movie at the morning screenings and wants to have breakfast with you in the coming days. We met there and Kate told me that Apples was one of the best movies of recent years and she wanted to be in the next movie. But I already had treatment for the next film, Claws, and I didn’t have a role for her. So she became a producer.
Carey Mulligan was originally cast to play Anna before dropping out due to scheduling conflicts. What drew you to Jesse Buckley?
We started looking at who would be the best person for this role and I love all of Jesse’s performances. Of course, I really like “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Charlie Kaufman, but I also liked her first performance in “The Wild Rose.”
You shoot the film on 35mm with cinematographer Marcell Rév. Was it a pipe dream that came true or part of your original idea?
I wanted to do it with “Apples” but we didn’t have the money. Here, I’m not taking it out of the contract. I said, “This should only be on film.” When we try to create something that feels a little more timeless, it’s a more powerful film capture.
I’m an old fashioned person […] I call the 90s the last decade of film because this is before all the technology and the internet came into our lives so much. You remember a little bit back when we didn’t have a cell phone, I’m sure, how it was when you met up with your friends and no one knew exactly where you were all the time, no one could find you anywhere. I love this weather.