BFI’s London Film Festival is in town! The FilmSoc Blog is back for the 64th edition of one of Europe’s largest film festivals, delivering a first look at the hits and misses of the 2020-21 season.
Editor-in-chief Tomi Haffety meets Supernova, Harry MacQueen’s touching tale of love and loss through the lens of dementia.
Sporting grey beards and earth-tone fleeces, veteran actors Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci deliver sublime and earnest performances in actor-turned-director Harry MacQueen’s second feature. Supernova follows Tusker (Tucci) and Sam (Firth), a middle-aged couple whose enduring love is tested by Tusker’s struggle with early-onset dementia. On a road trip through the Lake District, stopping to see friends and places from their past with the eventual destination of Sam’s final piano concert, a journey filled with tensions and realisations unfolds across the encompassing landscape.
From the opening scene, MacQueen draws attention to the comfortable intimacy of a relationship in which both people know everything there is to know about one another. Inside jokes and endearing bickering fills the dialogue for the first third of the film when the only characters introduced are Tusker and Sam. The simplicity of the scenes is captured as though the camera is an onlooker on a conversation. The warm chemistry between Firth and Tucci in this first act is exactly that of old lovers, and their natural rapport and brilliantly executed timing eases the viewer into the more painful scenes which come later in second and final acts of the film.
Supernova is slow moving and seems to have no real urgency to reach the climactic final third. A heart-breaking tale of love and morality through hardship, MacQueen’s depiction of dementia is subtle. Although it is a major theme of the story, it is not directly spoken about until the couple visits Sam’s sister in an idyllic country house and Sam is forced to face the reality of their future together. The use of autumnal hues and small doses of understated humour, which provide an apt amount of comedy and entertainment to this ultimately tragic story, lends another layer of stark realism to the film. This ultimately leaves you with the sense of melancholy realisation that Sam and Tusker’s story of abiding love and loss is not too uncommon.
The scenery lends depth to the film in a way that is unobtrusive. Throughout the ninety-minute feature it feels as though the bucolic landscape develops its own character. Laying emphasis on birdsong and soft winds juxtaposes scenes of growing separation between the couple as Tusker’s loss of control slowly takes hold of him. Using wide shots of the immense lakes and hills around the country roads that themselves are the symbolic spine of the story, carries the plot from one stage to another between locations special to Tusker and Sam. Running throughout the film, Edward Elgar’s ‘Salut D’amour’ acts as a personal tribute of love for the couple, carrying great weight and symbolism toward the climax in the final act and culminating with Firth’s significant rendition on piano.
Heavy on dialogue and long pauses, Supernova relies on the intimacy between Firth and Tucci. Although there is an unambiguously warm dynamic between the award-winning actors, and close ups of subtle caresses and nonchalant glances prove to the viewer that these are two men who have been in love for decades, there is something stereotypical of the roles they are playing. Firth adopts an almost typecast matter-of-fact Britishness, while Tucci offers his charismatic ‘American charm’ to balance the relationship. That said, the roles seem perfectly written for the two actors, whether as a result of their stereotypes or not. There is also a refreshing significance in the way that, although this is an LGBTQ+ film, there is no focus on that aspect of the relationship between the men or their friends. This inclusivity is not trying to be the focal point of the story as with many other films about gay romance, and the reserved tone of the feature allows the couple to be seen not solely for their sexuality but their overwhelming love for each other.
Through Supernova, MacQueen has proved himself as a master of storytelling. His stunning visuals lend to symbolisms throughout the film and the theme of nature runs parallel to those of love and morality. Single lines throughout the film carry enough weight to trigger sincere sadness from the viewer and Sam’s declaration that “it’s not about fair, it’s about love” will cause undoubted tears. Tusker’s interest in astronomy as well as the abundance of nature and vast, encircling hills poses the ultimate question of individual significance in an impossibly limitless universe, and a passionate monologue from Firth toward the end acts as a powerful defence of our individual importance.