It is absurd to hope for certainty in matters of the heart that are known to want what they want, although that will not stop us from trying. Such absurd hope is ripe for satire. It is, for example, the theme of Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2015 arthouse hit The lobster, set in a speculative future where people must enter into a partnership based on a compatible trait – say, chronic nosebleeds or nearsightedness. And now Christos Nikou, Lanthimos’ assistant director, is on the verge of a breakthrough Dog toothwas taken fingernailsset in a speculative future where science has developed a foolproof test to confirm whether two partners are truly in love.
The Lanthimos-led Greek Weird Wave uses stilted, deadpan performances to highlight the inherent ridiculousness of our social conventions. The entire cast of The lobster seem like aliens trying to fit in as humans by following a dog-eared, poorly translated set of rules. fingernails seems at first to convey a distorted view of the romantic illusions, such as the existence of soul mates, to whom we dedicate our lives. In the film, Jessie Buckley’s Anna takes a job at the Love Institute, a somewhat contradictory-named testing facility that’s part dentist’s office and part hotel conference center and developed the procedure that couples today rely on to confirm their happiness. Love is an isolable, binary and static state; Why listen to your heart when you can just pull out one of your fingernails with a pair of pliers, drop it and your lover’s fingernail into a machine that looks like a 30-year-old microwave, and wait for an ad that reveals it whether are you a 100 percent, 50 percent or 0 percent love partner?
There are at least half a dozen moments beyond this setup fingernails that are just as funny as anything else The lobster— or they would be if Anna’s own romantic indecision wasn’t presented so frustratingly, confusingly straightforwardly, and with a prevailing wistful tone that suggests the film takes its own deliberately flimsy premise as seriously as its characters.
Anna and Ryan (The bear‘s Jeremy Allen White) have been together for three and a half years. They’ve taken and passed the test, which means their routine, with lots of cozy or smug snuggling on the couch and watching nature documentaries, is confirmed as real. (There’s a certificate and everything). But everyone has a hungry heart, and so the restless Anna starts working with Amir (Riz Ahmed) at the Love Institute, which, in addition to conducting the tests, runs a kind of learning school in which couples train for their test through pair-bonding exercises like… trust dwindles and Pavlovian electric shocks as the other leaves the room. (Lanthimos’ characters also willingly endure unheard of pain.)
In a sense, this is just a reductio ad absurdum of the wellness industry, a couples retreat where things are really put to the test afterwards. There is no state or other coercive power behind this fingernails“soft dystopia, seemingly widespread approval of a new lifestyle product.” But this heightening of our own reality is not accompanied by a corresponding hyperreality in filmmaking. There’s a particularly lanthimosque moment when the prospective test subjects strip down to their underwear and a blindfolded friend is instructed to identify his girlfriend by smell. But rather than remaining clinically distant, Nikou’s intimate, moving camera delves into the touching uncertainty of the couples as they worry about whether they will pull through and stay together. Anna particularly likes one couple, a college-aged boy and girl, whose at-first-sight caring attitude toward each other probably reminds her of her early, euphoric days with Ryan.
Ahmed is a believable colleague who you fall for: a little awkward and irritable, but wry and passionate about his work – a man you wish you knew better. Anna begins to question whether her socially-approved relationship is the real story of her life, and it doesn’t take long before she’s absentmindedly singing Yazoo’s “Only You” to herself at her desk, reflecting the melancholic ambivalence of approaching midlife, the fear of irreversible decisions and the fear of irreversible decisions. How Past lives if his stakes were set transparently.
fingernailsThe anonymous Toronto locations and diverse cast (Buckley has an American accent, Ahmed doesn’t) are familiar to so many festival indie slot fillers. But instead of exploiting his film’s artificial gloss, Nikou uses the genre’s darkest clichés: the polished lighting, the cheesy but slyly sincere pinpricks, the deep attenuation New Yorker-The sadness of the story lies in the way Anna and Ryan drift apart. (It’s nobody’s fault). Buckley, immersed in her characters, comes across as someone weighing a stable but lackluster long-term relationship against the excitement of a new person, but the film does her a disservice by forcing her to wrestle with a metaphorical conceit, which is grafted onto this dilemma is no real reason. Her character is fully realized and relatable, aside from her idiotic belief in a concept that operates on a different plane of reality than the rest of the film.
On the one hand, it feels unfair to discuss it fingernails so persistent regarding The lobster. On the other hand, it is a comparison fingernails begs, on its hands and knees, as it crawls along in the footsteps of a film made by one of its director’s mentors, whose premise has already been accurately executed to a decade-long level. When Anna sees Amir dancing alone at a party and sinking into private ecstasy, it’s hard not to think of the similar robot performances in Lanthimos films, which are not only darkly funny, but also show the harrowing vulnerability of the Characters reveal the grace of a cruel and capricious world.
Nikou never goes against the grain to find pathos – he sands down his satire until nothing remains but tenderness. The lobster was one of A24’s most famous films. This watered-down, risk-averse imitation, arriving on Apple TV+ a week after its theatrical release, ends up feeling like the Tarantino imitations that clogged video store shelves in the mid-to-late 1990s: a Things to do in Denver when you’re dead for Letterboxd power users.