Gazing up at the stars, a man shares his expertise in finding constellations with his partner, one of a lifetime of small moments as bright and dazzling as anything in the night sky. Unfortunately, he for all his intelligence, he cannot recall the word ‘triangle’, and as time goes on, his memory of more and more things, big and small, fades into the void. Supernova is a story built around early onset dementia, but more than a shallow wallow in the sad nature of the disease, Harry Macqueen’s sensitive and measured approach uses the condition to explore the difficulty in saying goodbye, both to those you love and to yourself.
Opening the 2021 Dublin International Film Festival, Supernova unquestionably offers the star power expected of a festival Opening Gala. Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth star as the film’s central longtime couple, Tusker and Sam, making a road trip across the English countryside. They’re taking in the sights and revisiting longtime friends and family, but there’s a more serious side to their journey. Sam is an accomplished pianist making his way to a returning performance, but more particularly the trip is a morale booster and potential last abiding memory for Tusker. The cosy tourism, gently needling road arguments and parties are all an effort to keep the air of doom at bay, as Tusker, a sharp and vibrant writer, increasingly struggles with day-to-day life.
Longtime real-life friends, Tucci and Firth present a lived-in chemistry; warm, trusting, comfortable enough with each other to lightly bicker through the day, ensured that they’ll be in each other’s arms by night. They balance the brave face and melancholy expertly and with contrasts that match their strengths as performers; Firth the ashen-faced worrier, Tucci deflecting with well-deployed charisma. That the pair work so well together and within their characters gives Macqueen’s material the lift it is looking for. Straightforward by design, the film’s plot is slight, its direction unflashy, primarily revolving around the performances, but is more dignified than an overwrought Acting showcase. Using the star power of its leads, Supernova probes sobering topics, in Tusker, the idea of grieving yourself as you’re starting to slip away, in Sam, watching someone you love fade in front of you, the questions that asks of a person, the confrontation it presents to your own future.
The camera captures the beauty of the lakes, forestry and mountain ranges Sam and Tusker travel through with a crisp, clear but muted eye, like a strong but unfond memory, the colours focused and earthly but never vibrant. That the landscape looks so beautiful yet its hard to get a sense of what season it is indicates how Supernova’s cinematography informs its story. The beats proceed as expected, avoiding overt shocks and remaining on the surface level of some challenging conversations. It ambles a little, but when more intensity is required at a key point, Tucci and Firth have the experience to deliver. A heartbreak can be accomplished just as easily with a steady chisel as with a sledgehammer, and the film is better off for its sensitive approach, heartfelt and focused on character.(3.5 / 5)