Supernova is a restrained, gentle, heart wrenching tragedy. Carried by two pitch perfect performances, this is without a doubt one of the best films of the year.
After twenty years together, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker’s (Stanley Tucci) blissful life has been shattered following Tusker’s diagnosis with early-onset dementia. Intent on spending as much precious time together as they can, the pair travel across England in their old campervan. Visiting loved ones and returning to special places from their past. But as Sam and Tusker’s trip progresses and they are forced to confront the grave reality of their situation. Rifts begin to emerge as they look at what the future may hold.
While Sam and Tusker take this trip to see loved ones and places that they fondly remember. Heart wrenchingly, they are silently saying goodbye to each other. Even if they have much time left before Tusker leaves us, this is their swansong as a couple, more so than Sam realises.
Tusker has accepted his decline and sees fit to put his affairs in order, he has purposely left his medication at home, deeming it useless. He is a pragmatic character and will take what comes. Sam, however, clings as well as he can to hope. That he will get longer with his partner than expected, that their love will support them through the more traumatic times to come. Flat refusal to believe the situation stays with Sam, he cannot or will not accept it and this isn’t an unusual trait for families of sufferers from dementia or indeed any terminal disease. From personal experience, it is more heartbreaking to watch these poor souls suffer as the realisation hits them. They do not do this, like Sam out of badness, they just love and care that much that they cannot see the forest for the trees.
This is not a film that needs an explosive moment and if it did, it would most likely detract from everything else we have seen. This is a gentle, thoughtful film that meanders carefully through you. It takes it’s time to build to the final stay scenes, but all of the groundwork was already well laid. Tusker has accepted his fate, but in these scenes Sam is as far away from accepting it as emotionally possible. Planning new excursions of where they have been previously. Not willing to accept that this is the last one.
The dinner scene at the end culminates in this idea. Tusker is resolute and calm with his short future. Sam is desperate, there is no other word for it. His face is etched with desperation, he cannot handle losing the man he loves and after 70 minutes of the tension he lets it out. It is an amazing speech to Tusker, filled with sadness and fear, but also honesty. Firth in my opinion has never been better than he is here.
For sake of being honest with you, I have never felt much towards Colin Firth’s performances (I am sorry). I could never put my finger on it, but he just never clicked with me. That was until Supernova, his delicate performance is one I will remember for a long time. His small decisions, mostly with his eyes are devastating, he is truly pondering next moves and the right way to react outward.
An example of this is when he sits down as Tusker dresses, but becomes stuck with the buttons. A simple scene, but one that alerts Sam to how far the decline is going. Pausing and stalling as to when he should or if he should help his partner. His utter insecurities throughout the film rise and break like a wave as he battles his own emotions. Being there for Tusker and forgetting about himself is all he can focus on. The constant reminders of his challenges ahead are merely pushed back, for now.
With Tucci, it is brave performance. Playing a character who knows his time is coming to an end can sometimes be a thankless task. The assuredness that he plays Tusker is clearly evident. When the small cracks show in Tuskers demeanour, especially as he struggles with each final goodbye. There supreme ability of Tucci to allows it to wave over him for a few seconds before building the bricks back up is immense. He has made multiple decisions before and during the events of the film and he has to go through with them. Tucci plays that so well here. You understand his choices and are broken because you know he thinks it is right.
Macqueen places his camera and scenes in a way that it feels as if we are intruding in this extraordinarily difficult time in the lives of these men. Set usually just a comfortable distance away from them the camera doesn’t pry. We only get anything that resembles a close up when Sam and Tusker sit together and eat. Getting full focus of their faces as they discuss and emote until we have cuts to a two shot. It is a beautifully done piece of cinema. We shouldn’t be witnessing this, this it too intimate, too personal. Yet, we are captivated, we can’t leave them to ponder alone, not now. Macqueen is a talent that has a bright future and one that now, a lot of eyes will be on thanks to this film.
Supernova is written and directed as if it was a stage play and it very much has that feel towards it. If it wasn’t for the stunning scenery we find ourselves in thanks to cinematographer Dick Pope. I would almost have suggested that this is where it would be best suited. Alas, we are lucky to have this as a beautiful feature film.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!