Right off the bat, Michael Franco’s film is no easy watch. David, a home care nurse (Tim Roth) looks after terminally ill patients, and the film depicts the difficult, intense relationships that arise out of his work. Roth is haunting in his portrayal of a man who, from the get go, is obsessively devoted to his patients, and the state of his mental health is dramatically exposed as the families he works with develop suspicions about his intentions.
Chronic can be considered an important film because as a society, we tend to assume that carers are perfectly able to deal with the mental and physical strains such work often brings, and this film barges into the discourse and challenges our assumptions. David is particularly intriguing as an ‘iceberg’ character: the depth of his psyche is kept below a meticulously presented surface, and his increasingly vulnerable state is both frightening and captivating.
The film does away with gentle exposition- it is brutal yet mysterious, with the first half portraying strange, dubious actions from David without much context. This fragmented style only eases away once the story comes together more clearly as we learn more about David’s traumatic experiences relating to his own family. Roth’s face gives nothing away, yet he seems as distant and brooding as the film itself, despite his position as a compassionate nurse. Both the lead character and cinematography may remind viewers of Mark Romanek’s far more sinister One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams, where many physical elements of the film reflect and emphasise the sheer loneliness of the lead’s mental state. There are however touching moments of humour, particularly when David allows one elderly male patient to watch pornography against his overbearing yet distant family’s wishes, with the patient remarking, ‘Now that’s art!’
In terms of subject matter, Chronic grapples with some extremely difficult material that at times seems to drag on for the sake of discomfort, with the running time arguably extending beyond its purpose. In terms of making us more aware as an audience, it’s a good film, but not particularly enjoyable, yet perhaps that is why it needs to be shown in the cinema. We have become so used to Hollywood standards of beauty and its portrayal on our screens, that it can only be a good thing for these types of film to escape the noble confines of the film festival arena and instead shocks us into questioning.
Dir: Michael Franco
Scr: Darren Lemke
Cast: Tim Roth, Bitsie Tulloch, Maribeth Monroe
Prd: Michael Franco, Gabriel Ripstein, Gina Kwon, Moisés Zonana
DOP: Yves Cape
Run Time: 93 mins
Chronic is in cinemas from 19th February 2016.