Those left frustrated by Tim Roth’s torpid turns in the likes of Grace of Monaco and United Passions will be pleased to find the actor back on form once more in Chronic, the latest crisp and confronting character piece from Mexican writer/director Michel Franco.
Roth plays David, an apparently altruistic home-care nurse who is devoted to the terminally ill patients he works with. The relationships he forms with his clients are close and compassionate ones, which contrast considerably with those in his personal life; a predominately isolated existence that consists of routine gym sessions, and evenings spent stalking people from his past online.
Within the context of the narrative, Franco’s title is one of dual significance. Most visibly it refers to the traumas of those David is treating, the director drawing a profoundly distressing discomfort from the deteriorating symptoms we see being suffered by individuals so sick they are unable to perform the most basic tasks. However, it also denotes David’s own psychological problems; the barriers he insists in placing between his family & himself, and how this consequently causes him to exclude the grieving families of his patients from their ailing loved ones.
Franco’s directorial debut was 2012’s After Lucia, a grossly overrated exercise in morbid miserablism that more than mimicked the style of Michael Haneke. And though there is Hanekeian flourishes to be found here – DP Yves Cape’s measured camera movements remain coolly detached from the drama throughout, which suffuses the film with a shattering sense of disquiet – Chronic demonstrates the director’s own developed understanding of the medium. His amplification of emotional anxiety through the liberal reliance of diegetic sound is particularly affecting.
As an analysis of terminal sickness, Chronic has the power to be one of the most clinically honest & devastating films you’ll see this year. However, Franco succinctly balances such overwhelming sorrow by intrinsically infusing the story with moments of wry wit – many of them courtesy of the magnificent Michael Cristofer – that ensure it is always accessible to the audience.
Less successful is the script’s study of sociopathic tendencies, which enigmatically explores David’s persona with curiosity, but a fundamental lack of acuity that causes the conclusion to feel like little more than a contrived cop out. A shame, as Roth’s performance really is remarkable. The actor delicately revels in David’s ambiguities, adding layers of empathy and humanity to a challenging and complex character. That Roth appears to seldom be offered roles that so effortlessly demonstrate his substantial talents is in itself a chronic tragedy.
Chronic is in cinemas 19th February 2016.
Director: Michel Franco
Writer: Michel Franco
Stars: Tim Roth, Bitsie Tulloch, Maribeth Monroe
Runtim: 93 mins
Country: Mexico, France