Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are truly in love with each other. And they have evidence of their sentiment: they possess an “In Love Certification” from the “Love Training Institute”. Unbeknownst to Ryan, Anna takes a “love instructor” position at the very same institute. She quickly becomes a doting worker convinced that she can help couples of various ages, races and sexualities connect with each other (or disconnect where appropriate).
The Institute was set up by a middle-aged man called Duncan (Luke Wildon). He takes his work very seriously, having divorced his wife three years earlier upon failing the Test that he designed himself. The technique is highly unorthodox. A caring love instructor removes one nail from each applicant and then inserts them into a large microwave-like device embedded on the wall. A “100%” reading reveals that their bond is genuine and reciprocal; “50%” means that love is unrequited; “0%” means that there is no love at all. The removal process is far from romantic. A love instructor pulls out their fingernails with pliers, leaving the lovebirds screaming in agony. More Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992) than Love, Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003). This is the romcom of your worst nightmares. You will never look at your lover’s fingernails in the same way again.
The Institute carries out a number of “training” activities before the ultimate litmus test. The objective is to foster romanticism, and ensure that partners are indeed devoted to one another. The whole place has a white noise emulating rain (because the sound of rain is romantic). The problem is that the noise of water is also conducive to urination, confesses a worker with a hyperactive bladder. Clients are encouraged to sing in French because “la langue française est très érotique”. Other activities include diving together while gazing at each other in the eyes, and even parachuting, in order to improve their sense of mutual trust and complicity. All in the name of goo ol’ fashioned romance.
Love instructor Amir (Riz Ahmed) is quiet and stern. He carries out his professional duties with precision, but does not seem to enjoy a meaningful relationship with his partner Natasha. Amir and Anna are allocated to work together, and they begin to develop a bond that could morph into something a lot more wholesome. Their seemingly mutual, suppressed attraction is the main pillar of this unusually sore and yet mostly conventional romcom. Greek director Christos Nikou’s sophomore feature is fun and enjoyable to watch (if only you cover your eyes in the most graphic sequences). But it’s also highly formulaic and predictable, with a lukewarm ending. A little ironic for a movie that sets out to prove that love cannot be measured, structured and mechanically devised. I bet Nikou would fail the controversial Test of his own creation (he penned the film script himself, alongside two co-writers)!
Fingernails premiered in Competition at the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. In cinemas on Friday, November 3rd.