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Love is lighter than air, sings Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields. It floats away when you let go.

Love therefore needs to be grounded: in Greek director Christos Nikou’s follow-up to his debut film Apples it is grounded in having your fingernails pulled off.

This painful mutilation is the primary component of a test that is said to determine whether or not a given couple are really in love. Anna (Jessie Buckley) works in the institute performing the tests – she is certifiably in love with her partner Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) but now starts to feel restless around new work colleague Amir (Riz Ahmed) – is it possible that the science could be fallible?

Apples dealt (in an oblique way) with the pandemic, and the response to it, and it still feels like we’re in lockdown here, with everything hinging on a test result (this time, hopefully, a positive one) and little going on outside the lives of the immediate characters.

For example, the film doesn’t spend much time exploring the likely effects of this test – positive results are rare, it seems – on the wider culture. Are we in a world where scientific proof of love replaces or reinforces a moral/religious imperative to marry and stay together? What is the prevailing feeling about infidelity?

Instead, screenwriters Nikou, Sam Steiner and Stavros Raptis opt for a deadpan absurdist minimalism – the machine that doles out the results looks like a primitive micowave with a TV screen above it. The film delivers, however, exactly what you’d get from a conventional romcom – Anna ends up with Amir, having learned that matters of the heart are to elusive to be governed by science, or what passes for it.

Well we knew this already, but never mind: the film still works, partly down to some decent performances and also because it captures something about the nature of love, a sense of it being both a sort of ‘bedrock’ to our lives and at the same time utterly ephemeral; something which, for the most part, we only trust, or hope, is actually there – hence the need for proof.

In that sense, a lack of substance is apt, although I was left feeling that Nikou has just about got away with it rather than delivered anything significant.


In this French film Karim Leklou’s eponymous protagonist, a perfectly ordinary office worker, is targeted out of the blue by acts of violence from people he barely knows.

It transpires eventually that this is nothing personal, since other people have been similarly victimised, and have even formed a survivalist-style group in order to protect themselves. Slightly disappointingly, the film chooses not to explore this aspect of the scenario, instead having Vincent fall in with waitress Margaux (Vimala Pons); at which point the film – having begun in a vein of queasy humour and then moved into zombie apocalypse territory as the violence becomes more widespread and random – turns into a romance, albeit one where the lovers occasionally try to strangle each other.

After its various generic shifts, navigated ably enough by director Stéphan Caistang, the film grounds itself in a love story (even as everything around the love story becomes increasingly unstable). Though it could also be seen as a mid-life crisis film: these random assaults stand in for the realisation that Vincent must indeed die, a realisation that disrupts his humdrum existence and gives rise to the need for a new meaning in his life. Love in this case provides; meanwhile, the crisis becomes more general.


You can hold onto love tightly but like as not you’ll be on your own – the only ‘perfect love’ is unrequited.

There is something faintly comic in the title of Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s latest film, as there is in the heroine Antonina (Alonya Mikhailova) clinging to her title in the face of her husband’s increasing resistance: he even gets up from his funeral bier to denounce her at one point.

Her persistence in remaining Mrs. Tchaikovsky might suggest a mere desire for celebrity, something that would have been more readily accorded her nowadays, but there is more to this than meets the eye.

This is a tragic story, and true. Our heroine set her sights on Tchaikovsky (Odin Lund Biron) and he agreed to a marriage which might provide some cover for his other (gay) pursuits and bring in a little much-needed cash into the bargain.

She is, however, unable to do without in the bedroom department, which gives him a fit of the vapours, causes him to flee, and eventually results in an attempted divorce, which she won’t agree to even though it would have left her reasonably well off and refusing it dooms her to poverty and, ultimately, insanity.

The film, with its dour, oppressive atmosphere, is driven by the intensity of her obsession, which Serebrennikov doesn’t really ‘explain’. We never get to know what makes her tick, but this isn’t a problem.

At the beginning there is a reminder that the society depicted here is very different from our own – Antonina’s behaviour becomes an expression of that society’s contradictions.

Although she appears to be in opposition to society, she has got that way by aligning herself to the values of church and state. In a curious way she is compelled to do what Tchaikovsky, careless in the company he keeps, never quite does: pretend that he is ‘normal’. She pretends so hard that she believes it, but this is what ‘Tchaikovsky’s wife’ is meant to do, if you take the role seriously and have a proper respect for religion and the prevailing morality. And are, let’s not forget, in love.

If she doesn’t conform to particularly high moral standards in other areas of her life – later on, she has a lover (her lawyer), by whom she has several children, abandoned to orphanages – that may be the nature of idealism and obsessive love combined: one’s ‘real’ life is neglected, all but dismissed.

In keeping its emotional distance, the film allows Antonina to be perceived as grotesque or ridiculous as she opens her legs to provide her dying lover something to masturbate over or – in one of Serebrennikov’s more playful moments – performs a dance routine with naked muscular men in military caps.

Antonina has become a fag hag. Tchaikovsky and his pals manage to navigate society’s contempt for their sexuality, and this contempt is redirected onto her. It is, after all, a form of misogyny: to despise a man for taking on the ‘taint’ of femininity is to reveal a deep-rooted hatred for women (one need look no further than Russia’s current leader to see this psychology at work). Antonina seems to provoke and invite this as part of her attempt to ‘protect’ her husband. Could this be seen as a saintly act? As ‘true love’?

And if it is all just a dream, then is there something perversely heroic about her holding onto it in spite of everything? The marriage is her life’s work, her ‘masterpiece’ which nobody can understand – even now.

The film ends with the news that she remained unburied for some time after her death due to the revolutionary upheaval of 1917. The society that formed her particular mindset had collapsed; but the society that would follow would also have its share of enthusiastic advocates, who would be just as idealistic, and just as blind to the realisation that it wasn’t working out.