Cheltenham International Film Festival 2020: Supernova Review

For the second film I saw through the virtual Cheltenham International Film Festival, I wanted to go for a foreign language film and, seeing what was available to stream yesterday, the one that stood out to me was Supernova. I’ve not seen many Polish films and, since one of the films I saw at last year’s festival was Werewolf, I want to make it a thing where I see a Polish film, when possible, at each festival going forward. In the case of Supernova, that was a good call.

The film takes place on a country road in rural Poland and focuses on the events following a hit and run incident where an official in the Polish government runs over a woman and her two children. As the film goes on, taking place in real time, we see more and more people arrive at the site, including paramedics, police, firefighters and more citizens as the traffic builds up. As more people get involved, including the family of the people hit, tensions keep building creating a powder keg ready to go off at any moment. This tension is the best element of the film slowly burning throughout the course of the film with the pacing of the film ensuring that there is never a moment when the tension stops building. All through the film you’re waiting for the moment when things go too far and someone does something stupid that will make everything explode. Within this tension the film does a good job at exploring different aspects of Polish society, having a few moments showing the treatment of female police officers and elements of police and government corruption and the willingness to cover up awful events to benefit those in power. Even with these broader themes, the film also makes sure to show the personal ramifications of the event, with family members getting involved, giving us hints of the personal history of those involved, with how these personal histories conflict with the wider situation adding to the tension of the film. If there is a misstep with the film it comes with the ending. I get what was being aimed for, I just don’t think it quite worked on the whole, although it does not detract from the quality of the rest of the film.

The performances meanwhile are uniformly strong. Marek Braun is strong as Slawek Makowski, one of the police officers at the scene and is family with the victims. His performance does a good job showing his increasing grief and anger over the situation and how he uses his role as a police officer to exert his anger on those surrounding the site. It’s a very intense performance and you worry about what he’s going to do and how far he’s willing to go to get justice, especially when given orders to leave stuff alone to help with a cover up. Marcin Hycnar as Adam Nowak, the government official driving the car, is also strong, giving more of a pathetic performance, showing someone who is unsure over whether to take the blame or participate in the cover up because taking the blame would ensure that a lot of other shady stuff he has been involved with is brought to light. It is a difficult performance to pull off and Hycnar does it admirably. Marcin Zarzenczny as Michal Matys, the husband and father of the people run over is great as well. At the start of the film, as we see what his relationship with his family is like, he is a bit of a pathetic figure, but over the course of the film he does become a more tragic character, seeing his world destroyed in minutes and the grief that Zarzenczny brings across is excellent. He also shows himself to be a dangerous character, both to himself and to others, and, like with Braun’s performance, you’re not sure which way the character will go and what he’ll do, adding to the tension of the film. Alongside these, the performances from Agnieszka Skibicka, Anna Mrozowska, Michal Pawlik, Dariusz Dluzewski and Jerzy Janeczek are all strong as well, creating a believable environment for the film.

The technical elements of the film are very impressive. By using long takes and keeping the music to a minimum, director Bartosz Kruhlik and DP Michal Dymek do a great job at creating the feel of the film being in real time and the use of these techniques helps add to the tension of the film. As the screen becomes more and more crowded, combined with harsh lighting, even though the film takes place outside, there is a claustrophobic sensibility to the events playing out.

Overall, Supernova is a really interesting film. Even with taking place in an open environment this is an incredibly claustrophobic film with Bartosz Kruhlik doing a great job at creating an intense film. Every second of the film is put to good use, creating a slow burn of tension throughout the film to the point of explosion at the end, and crafting one of the most intense film experiences I’ve had this year.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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