Directed by Michel Franco
David is a nurse who works with terminally ill patients. Dedicated to his profession, he develops strong relationships people he cares for. But outside of work, it's a different story altogether.
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★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Michel Franco's camera is in no two minds about what he wants to reveal, challenging you to contemplate your own mortality, how far you have travelled and the unknown yet to come. Chronic is a film that confronts the anticlimax of our passing, the often undignified way our bodies fail us in the end and examines the particular mindset no doubt needed to become a private carer.
For much of the film it questions David's (Tim Roth) motivation for undertaking such a gruelling line of work. He often goes above the call of duty, working double shifts and taking up his own time to be with his patients. It is here you begin to understand the unique bond created between a nurse and a terminally ill patient, the months spent together intimately close and co-dependent, while a lifetime spent with family becomes more distanced due to an inability to help, to cope, or sometimes even to care.
David neutrally keeps to himself, always mysteriously calm and in service to those facing up to their final days. Not a facial or vocal tone falls out of place. But there is something not quite right, as assumed in the very first shot and slowly we begin to unravel why that may be. Our uncertainty grows further as he absorbs particular professional or personal traits of his patients, crossing over into uncomfortable waters. Roth is superb and I mean really superb, with one of his best performances in a very long time. Which is saying something given his consistency. Even when you can't discover who he is underneath the actions, he doesn't allow your suspicions to fully get the better of you.
Franco's distilled, clinical like approach opens up long takes with no place to hide. Rooms become claustrophobic as naked bodies are washed down, blood, sweat and tears wiped away inside the static frame, seemingly cold and unemotional but affecting you in a completely opposite manner. Not much is learnt about David through his conversations, instead the shot composition lays out the questions for us to come to our own conclusions.
A big problem for many, which I experienced myself, will be the ending. In the moment it feels misjudged and out of line with the tone so firmly set in place for the previous 90 minutes. No doubt it was done intentionally, so while you may feel cheated, it deserves some time to digest and reconsider, given the quality of the film up until that point. Hopefully it won't detract from a carefully made and compelling character study that looks at death and those caught in its throws, in an unflinching and unique way.
★★★½ review by Brendan Michaels on Letterboxd
This film could have easily been great if it had better focus in certain areas. Tim Roth's performance is good as he's able to carry some great scenes. But for crying out loud that ending feels so unearned. It's shocking but it comes out of nowhere. Check it out for yourself but this only is here as evidence on how influential Michael Haneke is.
Edit: Actually now that I think more about it I sort of like the ending.
★★★★ review by Billy Langsworthy on Letterboxd
A tough watch, but a deeply engaging one too.
It doesn't have the regular gut punches of Franco's impressive After Lucia, but it gets under the skin and stays there.
★★★★ review by Brian Koukol on Letterboxd
Living on the receiving end of the sort of care portrayed in this film for the majority of my life, I don't seem to have experienced this film the same way that many others have. I didn't perceive Tim Roth's character as creepy or ambiguous at all, but rather chock-full of empathy. In any interview with a possible caregiver, my first question would be: "Will you watch porn with me or otherwise act as my arms in order to allow me to do something morally bankrupt without judgment or complaint?" If yes, then you're hired!
I appreciate the relatively honest depiction of both debilitation and the codependent relationship that forms between giver and taker portrayed here. I also appreciate the amount of work required by me to put the pieces of this particular story together. What I don't appreciate, however, is the lazy, convenient ending. I see what writer/director Michel Franco was trying to convey with it, but it simply did not work for me. It didn't quite ruin the powerful film that came before it, but it came damn close.
Despite my issues with its conclusion, however, I can't recommend this film enough.
★★★★ review by Tim Burnham on Letterboxd
The vacancy Tim Roth's character carries in the certain wake of unknown pain is hard to watch. Which is only a testament to his skill as an actor. No one talks about the discomfort of being around people in pain but he carries it so well.
The film itself is interesting but I'm not entirely sure how well I'll be able to talk about it considering I'm not entirely sure if I was reading the movie right. There's a lot of interpretation and mystery to this film purely due to the presentation of information.
We start with nothing. A patient, prolonged, static shot. And each movement, shot, or conversation thereafter reveals a little more about our lead. And because we start with nothing, a simple piece of information or a quick reaction feels that much bigger and twistier than it really is. It's pretty brilliant storytelling, but it led me to perhaps misunderstand where we were going.
The film is essentially broken into three parts, each revolving around David's relationship with a different patient. And the first one and the first half of the second are fairly innocuous aside from some shockingly plainly presented off moments with David. He draws these patients in close to him, and nurtured (or fosters?) their dependence until all they have is him. And it's a little difficult at first to tell if that is sinister or sad.
There's a scene about half way with the second patient where he tells the family he is going to give him his lunch. And then as soon as they are alone, he pushes away the tray, sits down, and puts on a movie while holding his hand. And the biggest red flag here was that he didn't get his patients glasses so he could watch the movie (as he did in a previous scene).
That was the point where I started to feel like I knew where we were going. Combine moments like that with moments of David out in the real world where he learns all about his patients lives and hobbies and pretends to be related to them with random strangers. There is also an accusation thrown at him by a family member of the second patient that honestly could go either way. We see the scene in question but it's a little ambiguous, like all of David's actions. And add on top of that these are hospice patients so when they steadily get sicker and weaker it's hard to tell if it's natural causes or if it's because of David. So leading into the third section, I started to get concerned for the third patient.
But this patient did research on David and gives us a bit of an exposition dump. Her character generally weakens the film by breaking the quiet, naturalistic calm of the frame and by being a little bit of an awkward performer in dialogue scenes, but she shows up at the right point to give clarity....At least to me. I'd love to hear what anyone else who has seen this thought of it and it's dissemination of information. Because as she explained (to us basically) who David is and what he's dealing with, I suddenly felt like I had been watching the film through a weird and possibly incorrect filter.
I tried to be vague for the sake of spoilers but it's still kind of obvious what I'm talking about as I discuss the end, so he warned.
And once I realized what this film literally was and it ended where it ended, it was difficult to feel satisfied. David is given an option, but we never see him examine it, and it's not entirely clear why he decides why he does, or logistically how he could accomplish such a thing considering the scrutiny around him by this point. So he makes a decision that feels a little too big for this film and a little too big for how unexamined and casual it is. And then we get a brutal last moment that really tested me.
I initially rebelled against it. But the more I thought about it in context to his life leading up, and the way he cares for these people, and the empty melancholy of his existence, it became more interesting. And just as I was unsure of his intentions throughout the first two thirds I was left to wonder how accidental this was, and what he would want going forward.
I'll stop there because I'm doing a lot of dancing and beating around the bush of a pretty under the radar film. The short of it is this. Tim Roth gives possibly his best performance in a quiet and offbeat drama about a strange caretaker. The film reckons with death plainly and the trumpeting around it. How people treat death and illness. The way the families of these sick characters treat them provides some of the most interesting and real snippets. The direction is so minimal that it maximizes the effectiveness of its subtle, tiny script and takes narrative flow to another level. I'll definitely need to check this one out again and I'll definitely be consuming whatever reviews I can find on it.
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