When the film begins quietly in the motorhome of Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), one almost instantly feels intrusive – such is the simmering tenderness coming from the on-screen lovers.
As Supernova unfurls, the story of this middle-aged couple facing obstacles from a medical predicament is teased out in similar fashion. Tucci displays remarkable full-body acting, sending out signals with tired eye flutters and quivering hands. His state diminishes stealthily, an insidious pollution to his witty banter, but the signs of the early dementia is controlled by a silent, stubborn goal.
Firth, on the other hand, is the noble caretaker, always on hand to make things a little bit more comfortable. But it gets to a point where the excessive coddling itself becomes a loaded reminder of where things are going, and the need to appear strong sings differently from the fractured vulnerability leaking from the partner.
The two have no actual quarrel besides the joking jabs and passing irate comments, so if not for the condition, they would likely have spent out the rest of their lives together. But as people often say, life isn’t always fair.
Harry Macqueen who directs and writes, often allows Supernova to stand upon the nuanced dynamics between the two actors. It works the most during the quiet moments, thanks to their rich performances, though in speech, there are times which become affected moments that lay things a tad too bare.
Because the film is presented as a script-tease, with nudged reveals and motivation puzzle pieces rewarding the audience, the more obvious conversations (such as the ones recorded on tape) feels out of cadence with this ballad of a plot. Thankfully, it only occurs a few times.
The ebb and flow might mark this a slow piece, but director of photography Dick Pope keeps the interest by draping the title with either luxurious scenes of the Lake District in England or atmospheric lighting within confined spaces. And it’s not purely for aesthetics. It is balm and space for when the unsaid becomes all too tense between the two. Or intimacy told in the shadows when the truth becomes too much to bear. The cinematography here helps to wrap this quiet story with incredible dignity.
Tusker’s shares his approach to this crippling disease to his sister-in-law in one scene. “You’re not supposed to mourn somebody when they are still alive,” he states. The writer and astronomy hobbyist clearly feels that memories should not be marred by burden or degeneration. Sam on the hand, is the desperate optimist, always planning far ahead for his lover.
From this, we mull upon the subject of goodbyes. Not all of us get the privilege of doing so when a loved one passes, but is it any better if it is prolonged? Each side puts forth a case, unwrapping love’s sacrifice in a beautifully tragic way, and this process will no doubt strike a chord at some point. But ultimately the realisation is less about which philosophy is better, than it is to reach a consensus on how to let go.
A modest but poignant project. The examination here is a joy to watch, courtesy of the brilliant cast.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com