Chicago International Film Festival 2015: Chronic, by Aaron Pinkston
Tim Roth stars in Michel Franco’s Chronic as a home care nurse who works with terminally ill patients. Over the course of the film, David works with four different patients (though only three have more than one scene) that serve to segment the film. The first is a woman with AIDS, followed by an older man suffering from a debilitating stroke and a middle-aged woman with aggressive cancer. As you would expect from this set-up, Chronic is an incredibly bleak film. Roth’s steady performance and a few directorial choices make Chronic an interesting film, but a slight narrative holds it back from really clicking.
There seem to be two major aims of Chronic: to show an excruciatingly real presentation of home care and be a character study of a slightly undesirable lead. While the film is incredibly successful with its first goal, it struggles to build David in any satisfying way. This isn’t to the fault of veteran actor Tim Roth – he is a trustworthy presence who becomes appropriately shady once the film’s view of the character changes.
David comes off a little creepy at the start, but the film is slow to show his full personality. For certain, he is very good at his job, compassionate with his patients, able to build strong personal connections with them quickly while showing control of their needs. As we see more of him outside of work, however, more red flags come – he routinely tells white lies in order to gain sympathy or make himself feel more self-important. At the very least, David seems to be a sad and lonely guy who doesn’t have the ability to have meaningful relationships with the outside world. His strong connections with his patients even become a cause for more problems as families see inappropriate behavior arise.
When David is with one of his patients, Chronic is mostly non-narrative, with an extreme focus on the process of care. We are shown multiple scenes throughout the film of the worst aspects of David’s job, including bathing his patients in uncomfortable detail. The greater story and David’s character insights happen mostly in between long stretches of work. Information builds slowly – for example, we’ll see David looking at photos of an unknown young woman in one scene and a few scenes later learn who this person is. This structure often ends mysterious questions with unsatisfying answers.
This slow and deliberate distillation of character is likely why Chronic won the top screenplay prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. The problem, however, is there isn’t much a narrative momentum, capped off by a incredibly frustrating ending. Each of David’s patients come with a more dramatic theme than the last, so there is thankfully some emotional build. From a character perspective, though, there is a lot left wanting.
Chicago International Film Festival Showtimes:
Wednesday, October 21, 8:15 pm
Thursday, October 22, 8:30 pm
Monday, October 26, 12:30 pm