It’s something of a spoiler to say that Michel Franco’s Chronic shares an awful great deal with Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life. Still, it does – and there’s little we can do to get around that fact. David is a nurse who works for an agency. He is assigned to terminally ill patients and cares for them until they die. David is tender in his work – vigilant, compassionate and professional. He never patronises, underestimates or disrespects his patients. He treats every patient with dignity, human decency and intelligence. He sees his patients as the imperfect people they were before their illness replaced their identity. It’s a joy to watch him work. In his personal life David shows less kindness. Always alone, he abruptly addresses customer assistants and strangers. Not quite rude but often blunt. He carries his patients and their sadness with him, unable to leave his work behind. In small moments he elludes to strangers about a fictional life he’s fabricated. Chronic is a study of character and human behaviour. David doesn’t appear to believe his lies but seems to indulge in them briefly. He’s a fascinating being to watch and unravel. In its first shot, Chronic positions us inside a car, waiting outside a house. When someone appears and drives away from the property, we follow them. Through methods and editing choices like this Chronic is instantly clouded in a thick fog of mystery, mysteries with explanations which very slowly become apparent.
Chronic is a deeply sensitive and unnerving piece of cinema. It addresses terminal illness head on, refusing to shy away from the violent side effects that are rarely spoken about or shown in mainstream movies. Franco’s camera is often stationary; sensitively letting the actors tell the story and bring the harsh realities of pain and suffering to the surface. Tim Roth handles David with precision and delicacy – as though he were a patient of his own. Roth’s emotional capacity as an actor comes as no surprise but he is still mesmerising and incredibly moving to watch, as always. Chronic isn’t without its problems. It lacks the precise vision and dedication to its narrative required to truly win over its audience but it remains thought provoking and fascinating none the less. This is very much Roth’s film but the supporting cast should also be commended – some for their sheer bravery. Robin Bartlett’s character is suffering from cancer and the result of her conviction is heartbreaking. With terminal illness and its humiliating consequences being at the heart of Chronic, it’s hardly surprising that it approaches ethical questions around death and suffering. Perhaps its greatest downfall is that Chronic shares so much with so many other films. It’s reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s masterpiece Amour whilst sharing the same frustrating metaphors and cinematic scapegoats as Still Life. Lacking originality but beautifully and tentatively approaching its subject matter, Chronic is a flawed but fascinating and fierce little film.
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