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Caregiver in a ‘Chronic’ Condition

Tim Roth stars in a drama about life and the end of life

Oct. 11, 2016
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In Chronic, David (Tim Roth) is a homecare nurse responsible for caring for people with little or no hope. He is solicitous of his patients. He showers them, spoon-feeds them, changes their diapers and pushes their wheelchairs. But soon enough the hairline cracks in his calm façade become visible, along with the empty spaces in his life. David insinuates himself into the lives of his patients in ways at once strange and harmless. He pretends to be the husband of one patient, the brother of another.

Chronic’s milieu is the terminal stage of life, the dead end of suffering. Mexican writer-director Michel Franco explores the difficult subject not by furiously waving messages at viewers but through the unhappy life of a particular caregiver. In back of Chronic is the lonesome atomization of contemporary society, the fraying of human ties in the rough hands of selfishness, the banality of language that no longer communicates much of anything.

Reminiscent of a 1970s art house filmmaker, Franco eschews jump cutting and rapid rhythm in favor of long takes. The camera lingers meaningfully on most every frame and little seems to happen at first. Soon enough the weight of the story achieves momentum. Chronic asks viewers to pay close attention to every scene and listen through the long silences. Like a jigsaw puzzle the pieces gradually come together. It takes time to identify David’s role in the lives around him; his inner life remains enigmatic and appears as empty as the sparse room he inhabits. Gradually, the looming shape of past tragedy emerges.

Chronic is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie. There is no crummy music telling the viewer how to feel; no melodrama in the face of painful decisions or death itself; just a Spartan English-language screenplay (it won a prize at Cannes) that refuses the consolation of false cheer or hope.

Chronic

Tim Roth

Directed by Michel Franco

Rated R

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