Review of Supernova

Supernova (II) (2019)
7/10
A fascinating study of how a life-altering catastrophe for one person is nothing more than a traffic jam for another
16 March 2020
The debut feature from writer/director Bartosz Kruhlik, Supernova is an excellently made and thematically fascinating film that manages to pack a lot into its 78 minutes; multiple well-rounded characters, several well-developed plot strands, socio-political commentary, existential musing, and a dénouement that throws everything we've seen into relief.

The film opens on a Sunday morning in an unspecified area in rural Poland. On a quiet country road, we're introduced to Iwona Matys (Agnieszka Skibicka) and her two young children, Pawelek (Borys Bartlomiejczyk) and Piotrus (Iwo Rajski), who emerge from their home, pursued by her husband, Michal (Marcin Zarzeczny). Even at this early hour, Michal is already drunk, and it quickly becomes apparent that Iwona is in the process of leaving him, taking the children with her. As he loses pace with them, he hails down a passing car driven by Adam Nowak (Marcin Hycnar), an arrogant politician. As Michal leans into the car, he throws up, causing Adam to speed away. However, in his disgust Adam takes his eyes off the road, resulting in a horrifying crash from which he immediately flees. Completely unaware of the collision, however, Michal passes out in a ditch. Meanwhile, two policemen - Slawek (Marek Braun) a veteran known for his calm demeanour, and his young, enthusiastic-to-a-fault partner Mlody (Michal Pawlik) - receive the call to attend the crash. Arriving at the location, they find an ambulance and fire-brigade already in attendance, but when he surveys the scene, the usually unflappable Slawek reacts in utter horror. Soon thereafter Zygmunt (Dariusz Dluzewski), the acerbic but efficient Komendant of the force, arrives with explicit orders to minimise the fall-out for Adam, who has by now returned to the scene. However, as word spreads through the local community, a crowd gathers, and as Adam's role in the crash becomes apparent, the locals' thoughts turn to vengeance. As the police attempt to contain the situation, Michal, Adam, and Slawek find themselves in a situation from which none of them will emerge unscathed.

Kruhlik uses the site of the crash as a kind of representative microcosm, an allegorical melting pot wherein he examines issues such as group mentality, political arrogance, the abuse of law, alcoholism, the difficulties of police work, and the ghoulish curiosity which leads people to take out their phones to record a tragedy before they think to offer assistance. The two main themes, however, are the dissemination of communal anger (the "Supernova" of the title refers to the build-up of emotion that seems like it can only result in a devastating explosion) and the idea that a life-altering event for one person is nothing more than a traffic jam for another. Whilst Michal, Adam, and Slawek are having their entire existence ripped out from under them, others find the situation a mild inconvenience that necessities a slight change in travel plans. Meanwhile, the crowd of onlookers, at first morbidly curious, soon turn aggressive as word of Adam's actions percolate through their number and they realise that he may use his position to worm his way out of culpability. And so the feeling of anger rapidly spreads like a kind of emotional Chinese whisper, with each member of the group influencing the thinking of those around them. It's all very interesting and maturely handled by Kruhlik as we find ourselves getting drawn into this increasingly dangerous and unpredictable situation.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is how much character development Kruhlik packs in. We learn a lot more about the three main characters than you might expect in such a short film, but others are fleshed out too; Mlody and Zygmunt, for example, both receive some backstory, as does Magda (Anna Mrozowska), a nervous young policewoman unsure how to react to three youths aggressively hitting on her. The screenplay is structurally very simple (it was purposely written to be shot on a shoestring budget), but this simplicity does not preclude thematic complexity or character interiority. The film is also aesthetically impressive, with cinematographer Michal Dymek employing long takes that make use of the geography of the single location. The opening shot, for example, begins on the Matys home, follows Iwona and Michal some way down the road, pauses to show Michal trying to get into Adam's car, and then finally comes to rest on Michal as he falls asleep in a ditch. With the film also taking place in something close to real-time, this creates a strong sense of almost documentarian immediacy.

All things considered, I thought Supernova was an impressive debut. It's fairly slight, but it's very competently made, and it has some interesting things to say about fate and how we are all, naturally enough, each at the centre of our own conception of reality.
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