Truth and nail

Christos Nikou on technology, love and Eighties synthpop in Fingernails

by Amber Wilkinson

Christos Nikou at the San Sebastian press conference. He aims to watch three films a day here. 'I love the magic feeling when you are there,' he says
Christos Nikou at the San Sebastian press conference. He aims to watch three films a day here. 'I love the magic feeling when you are there,' he says Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival/Jorge Fuembuena
“Love is the most elusive thing,” says Greek director Christos Nikou, “It’s something that we can’t put in our hand and analyse.” The Apples writer/director is talking about his latest film Fingernails, which imagines a world in which couples are offered a definitive answer as to whether they are made for one another or not. In this case, as the saying goes, love hurts, as to find out the truth, a fingernail must be pulled off each partner and placed in a machine which will reveal all.

He’s speaking at the press conference for the film in San Sebastian, where it had its European premiere after featuring at Telluride and Toronto earlier this month. The film stars Jessie Buckley as Anna, who is, a machine has told them, already met her perfect match in Ryan (Jeremy Allen White). Except, a couple of years on, she’s just not so sure and takes a job at the institute where the fingernail test is done out of a mixture of curiosity and a desire to reinforce her own relationship.

Things only get more complex though after she becomes friends with Amir (Riz Ahmed), who is mentoring her in her new role as an adviser to couple’s preparing for the test as they try to strengthen their bonds.Her deepening feelings for Amir only further call into question her own relationship.

Nikou’s film shies away from easier answers. He says: “What we are trying to say with the film is that love is something we need to work for. It’s not something we can prove only one time but we need to work more on it and we need to work on a daily basis.”

Jeremy Allen Green and Jesse Buckley as Ryan and Anna in Fingernails. Christos Nikou: 'We wanted to create something that makes the physical pain equal with the pain of love'
Jeremy Allen Green and Jesse Buckley as Ryan and Anna in Fingernails. Christos Nikou: 'We wanted to create something that makes the physical pain equal with the pain of love' Photo: Apple
It’s ironic that the film will be released by Apple, given that it’s critical of the idea of technology being able to provide a solution for everything.

Nikou explains he still has an old iPhone. “Even if I’m working with Apple, they didn’t give me a new one,” he says.

He adds: “I don't have a good relationship with technology.”

He’s also keen to point out that he wanted to keep the film close to the feeling of our world, rather than stepping into futuristic sci-fi.

“The problem is that most of the conceptual stories - and most of the TV series are doing this - is that they want to create a world that’s futuristic and distant. In that case, I do not think an audience can connect. Also, I cannot connect as an audience, first of all, as a cinephile.”

Thinking about other films, including Moon and the movies of Spike Jones and Michel Gondry, that also feel more connected to the real world than what might be called regular sci-fi, he says: “I know that we’re calling them science-fiction, but all these directors and movies are allegories of our world, of our society. They’re trying to create a parallel world of the one that we’re living in right now. Also, to create it in a more analogue way, something more timeless. That is what we’re trying to do with this. The movie that made me want to be a filmmaker was The Truman Show, by Peter Weir, which is an amazing prophecy about our lives by Andrew Niccol. It has that feeling, that it’s something old but it makes a comment about what we’re living right now.

Jesse Buckley and Riz Ahmed as Anna and Amir in Fingernails. Christos Nikou: 'Love is the most elusive thing. It's something we can't put in our hand and analyse
Jesse Buckley and Riz Ahmed as Anna and Amir in Fingernails. Christos Nikou: 'Love is the most elusive thing. It's something we can't put in our hand and analyse Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Speaking to the use of the pulling of nails - something that is suggested rather than depicted graphically in the film but no less toe-curling for that - he says: “We wanted to create something that makes the physical pain equal with the pain of love. We note that it creates some feelings and reactions in the audience but also at the same time love is something that most of the time makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable, so we wanted to have this.”

In addition to holding a central will they/won’t they narrative, the film also parodies couples therapy, as would-be nail sacrificers go through a series of workshops - including skydiving - in order to further cement their love for one another.

Nikou notes that couples therapy seems to be increasingly common among the younger generation. It’s fair to say, he’s not a fan, as he adds: “I think we just have to feel the experience, feel the moment and not do all these things.”

Although the film is timeless, the music mostly comes from the Eighties, with Yazoo’s Only You and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart both getting a look in. “I love Eighties synth pop,” Nikou admits. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart is a great song, even if some people believe that it’s cheesy. In general we chose them because I love them.”

And don’t be fooled into thinking that just because Apple has it for distribution, you won’t be able to see it on the big screen. The director points out that the company was the only one, when they were touting the film at Cannes, that secured worldwide theatrical distribution for them. At the moment, Fingernails is having a cinema release in Cinemas, including those in the UK, on October 27.

“I hope we will add a few more,” he says. “For me, movie are made only for thetares and for cinemas. I I don't believe that movies should be seen on a TV screen.. That's why we're all fighting.”

Nikou says he’s aiming to watch three films a day while he’s at the festival, adding, “I love the magic feeling when you are there.”

Ultimately, he says he aims for a “melancholic smile tone”, which is a pretty good three-word description of his film’s mood. You might say, he nails it.

Share this with others on...
News

Waiting to become an adult Kim Gordon on Catherine Breillat’s fairy-tale films, The Last Mistress, Samuel Kircher and Léa Drucker in Last Summer

Life in New Lodge Alessandra Celesia on capturing the stories of The Flats

'I had to hire bodyguards' Director Agnieszka Holland on the backlash to Green Border and why film can be a powerful weapon

The land remembers Simon Aeppli on the folk horror landscape of 1970s Northern Ireland

Anouk Aimée - the eternal romantic Star of A Man And A Woman takes her leave at the age of 92

A fusion of music and story Oliver Murray with Ed Bahlman on Ronnie’s, The Quiet One and They All Came Out To Montreux

Donald Sutherland dies Legendary actor leaves a remarkable legacy

More news and features

We're bringing your news, reviews and interviews from Docs Ireland and Frameline48.



We're looking forward to the Fantasia International Film Festival.



We've recently covered Sheffield DocFest, the Tribeca Film Festival, the Muslim International Film Festival, Inside Out,Cannes, Fantaspoa, Queer East, Visions du Réel and New Directors/New Films.



Read our full for more.


Visit our festivals section.

Interact

More competitions coming soon.