Michel Franco’s absorbing follow-up to his festival favourite After Lucia scrutinises over the harsh realities of life. Moments we can’t bear to go through, but have little choice. Moments you don’t quite want to see played back to us on the big screen. But there’s an obligation to counteract the surrealist, supernatural productions in a contemporary cinematic landscape, and we need to see films of this nature. They’re just horrible to sit through, that’s all.
We focus in on the life of home care nurse David (Tim Roth), who spends his days – and nights – tending to those in their final days, the terminally ill, facing up to their mortality. Though his relationships are short, they are intense – to a point where his own methods and ethics are questioned by a patient’s family. But Franco makes no accusations, merely leaving his camera to linger from afar, and capture this assiduous man undertaking his day’s duties. Whether that is showering Aids sufferer Sarah (Rachel Pickup) or cleaning up Marta (Robin Bartlett) after an accident, he looks after those in an undignified state so many loved ones fall in to.
Chronic is a cold, detached experience – as we’re embodying a role who sees this merely as his job, and nothing more. He can’t become emotionally invested, it would ruin him, and in turn, it would destroy the viewer. So while thankful that is the case, it certainly doesn’t make this any easier a watch: it’s uncomfortable and disquieting to sit through. Is this easy territory for Franco? Too obvious a place to ignite and evoke emotion? Perhaps so – but it still takes an accomplished filmmaker to present this narrative, and he does a fine job. A job, however, that is undone somewhat by the unfathomably bad ending, which leaves you feeling far more perplexed than impressed.
Nonetheless, Roth turns in a wonderful display as David, as an actor it’s hard not to admire his inclination to be so creative and resourceful in his work and career choices, as he evidently takes on roles based on the screenplay presented to him, rather than the pay-check. For the sake of this argument, though, let’s just pretend that FIFA film he made never happened, yeah? I’m sure he has.