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TIFF ’23 Review: ‘Fingernails’ provides a false sense of security to couples

‘Fingernails’ unfolds in a world in which a loving relationship can be upended by a single test result

A scene from 'Fingernails'
A scene from 'Fingernails' courtesy of TIFF
A scene from 'Fingernails' courtesy of TIFF

‘Fingernails’ unfolds in a world in which a loving relationship can be upended by a single test result.

Dating has changed drastically in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. Chance meetings seem more difficult and fewer friends are orchestrating blind dates. Matchmaking apps were the answer for a while, but even those have kind of fallen out of favour. Then, after finding a potential someone, you begin to wonder: Do we have a future together? Do we like enough of the same things? Do they feel the same way? Answers may not be immediately apparent, but that is part of the journey… and it’s not always a happy ending. Fingernails takes the guess work out of finding the right person, but at a cost.

The Love Institute offers couples exercises to deepen their connections, as well as a test to evaluate if they’re a compatible pair. The assessment requires a fingernail from each person and results can be 0 percent (negative), 50 percent (only one person is in love) or 100 percent (positive). Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) tested positive a few years ago and have a comfortable, caring relationship. After losing her teaching position, Anna is hired by the Institute to conduct the exercises and tests. She is assigned to shadow Amir (Riz Ahmed), a rising star in the organization. They have a good working relationship and Anna is fitting in well. But when it seems they may be developing feelings for each other, everything they’re doing becomes uncertain.

It feels as if the film is taking place at some point indeterminate time as they reference movies like Jaws (1975), Titanic (1997) and Notting Hill (1999), but still use landlines. The machine that assesses the couples’ fingernails looks like a glorified microwave attached to an 8-bit monitor. Everything in The Love Institute is meant to make people feel more romantic, from the sounds, including only music in French, to the posters, which feature inspirational words and symptoms of love. The only hint to why they rely on fingernails for the test is a poster that indicates heart conditions can be detected by nail health, but the process is otherwise entirely mysterious.

The story unfolds in a culture that puts a lot of value on coupledom. The reliance on these tests to determine a couple’s future is widely accepted and so entrenched that a negative test typically means the end of a relationship. Conversely, a second positive can save a marriage on the rocks. Simulating romance and manufacturing ways people can connect takes the allure out of falling in love. As the narrative progresses, it’s clear something has been lost as people don’t trust their own feelings, requiring outside validation for something that was once a very personal choice — a dichotomy Anna is struggling to resolve.

Fingernails had its international premiere in the Special Presentations programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Read other reviews from the festival.

Director: Christos Nikou
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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