Film Review

Chronic

todayNovember 2, 2023 87

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By – Gareth Jones

Released in 2015, Chronic is not an easy film to watch.  The fourth feature film by Mexican writer/director Michel Franco (no relation to James or Dave, than goodness) it tells the story of a palliative nurse named David, who is played at top form by the imminent Tim Roth.The story follows this nurse through a series of patients, as we gradually learn more about his past.  

Michel Franco’s aesthetic editing and cinematography choices are a huge reason for the film’s success for me. There are exactly 97 shots in the film, each around a minute. Each serves a purpose.There is very little time wasted and each scene affects you in a different way. For example, there are many scenes of just the daily care of patients from cleaning to watching movies to interacting with family.  All of these are presented in authentic real time.  There are very few close-ups.  Most scenes are mid-shots or at a distance.  This is coupled with minimal camera movement.  At times, these are reminiscent of some of the great transcendental filmmakers like Ozu, Bresson, or Dreyer, something that I am sure is intentional. The cinematography is by Belgian Yves Cape who brings his extraordinary work with Bruno Dumont (who has also made similarly challenging films) and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors.  

This approach can be agonizing but it allows the audience to connect with the experience of the nurse and the patient.  Some of it can be traumatic, as no one likes to be reminded of death or be challenged by seeing someone slowly lose their ability to take care of themselves.  Some of the scenes are excruciating, especially for someone who has gone through these moments.  I would caution anyone who has gone through these heartbreaking experiences in viewing this film. It is so close to the bone.  I would also highlight that these draining scenes are often accompanied by hum-drum daily life scenes, often David running, that gives us some opportunity to decompress.

All of this is heightened with the masterful performance of Tim Roth.  Roth has made a career out of over the top, emotional roles, especially in his work with Quintin Tarantino. There is no screaming or crying here.  It is an internalized performance that gives the audience a canvas upon which to paint their own thoughts and ideas.  We are gradually giving information about his character, but rarely get any kind of explanation for his behavior or thoughts.  He is joined by several other actors who are incredible including Robin Bartlett as Martha who is dying of cancer, Michael Cristofer as a porn-loving architect dying from a stroke, and Sarah Sutherland as his daughter.  All bring a real understanding of their roles that complement Roth tremendously.

The film is a prime example of slow building but rewarding cinema. Franco confronts us with mortality and forces us to ask difficult but necessary questions.  It takes time to process the power of the film, but it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Available to stream for free on Tubi. 

Written by: Gareth Jones

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