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Supernova

"Elegant and elegiac, haunting and, at times, harrowing"

★★★★½ - STUFF 

- Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci combine for haunting, heartbreaking drama - 

At first, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) seem like any other couple on a road trip.

Tempers occasionally fray, disagreements over the right way of doing things sometimes flare up and there are moments of warmth, laughter and serendipity.

But this is no ordinary pootle through the glorious English countryside in an RV neither really knows how to operate. Yes, Sam has a concert to perform, but, in truth, this is a journey down memory lane, a chance to visit friends, family and places from their past.

It’s not purely about wallowing in nostalgia either, as becomes clear when Sam makes a quick pit-stop and, upon his return, finds Tusker has vanished – without his phone. After a few moments of panic and a quick scout around the area, he’s relieved to find his partner safe and well – if a little disorientated.

Turns out he didn’t bring his pills – deliberately. “They remind me I’m ill – and I don’t want that,” Tusker says defiantly.

It’s now two years since the novelist got the devastating diagnosis of dementia. Since then, he’s been determined to live life to the full and press on with his work. But now, sensing things are getting worse, Sam wants to try and spend as much time with him, but he’s finding it is taking a heavy toll on his own emotions and mental state.

"Have you thought about getting help?” Sam’s sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood) asks when they arrive at her country cottage.

“Do you honestly think he’d be on board with that?” comes the exasperated reply, before Sam adds, “I don’t know that I’m doing this very well, sis.”

As friends gather for a party, Sam becomes increasingly frustrated at Tusker’s dismissal of his attempts to talk about the future. “We need to plan,” he opines, suggesting their current home may be unsuitable for what’s to come. However, Tusker won’t have a bar of such talk.

“We’re not moving – home is home.”

And when Lily tries to persuade Tusker to let Sam look after him, by reminding him that “you're still you Tusker. You're still the guy he fell in love with”, his reply comes as something of a shock.

“No. I'm not. I just look like him."

Elegant and elegiac, haunting and, at times, harrowing, little-known British writer-director Harry Macqueen’s understated drama is a heartwrenching study of love and loss for which a packet of tissues are almost compulsory. This is a movie where the silences are just as important as the dialogue and where mood triumphs over a driving narrative.

Keaton Henson’s gentle score helps set the mood, while Macqueen draws viewers into the story via some clever point-of-view shots and intimate close-ups.

At its heart though, Supernova’s strength comes from the performances of its two leads. Originally, old friends Firth and Tucci (who first met on the set of World War II TV movie Conspiracy two decades ago) were cast in the opposite roles. Watching now though, it’s hard to see how that it would have worked in quite the same way.

Reminding one of his Oscar-nominated role in A Single Man, Firth is magnificent as someone struggling to make sense of the situation where the person he loves the most won’t let him care for him. Underneath the chunky-knit sweaters and puffer jackets is a breaking heart desperate to cling on to Tusker for as long as possible. 

Tucci is equally impressive, seemingly cruelly stubborn, charismatically upbeat and amazingly selfless all at once. Naturally, he gets all the best lines – witty and wretchedly sad – and delivers them to, sometimes, devastating effect. “I want to remembered for who I was, not what I’m about to become.”

Rivalling Sarah Polley’s magnificent Away From Her in its portrayal of the physical and emotional carnage wrought by progressive neurological disorders, Supernova will generate plenty of tears and debate. 

- James Croot, STUFF 

Supernova is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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