Life’s little mysteries
CHRONIC Directed by Michel Franco. Starring Tim Roth, Robin Bartlett, Michael Cristofer, Nailea Norvind, Rachel Pickup, Sarah Sutherland, David Dastmalchian, Christopher McCann. Club, IFI, Dublin, 93 min In 2012, Michel Franco’s After Lucia took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. The president of the Jury that year was Tim Roth who (a coincidence, I’m sure) returns in this cooler, problematic film concerning the politics of palliative care.
This is the finest performance in many years for an actor who, too often, is tempted to nibble at the scenery. None of those tendencies are present in his submerged turn as a nurse from some southern part of the US. From the beginning, we are clear that there are mysteries to David. He certainly cares for his gravely ill patients. But does he care too much? Shortly after losing a woman to what might be Aids, we hear him tell strangers that his wife died of just that disease (she didn’t). Now assigned to an architect who has suffered a severe stroke, he begins spending his own money on architecture books and swapping shifts with the night staff. Eventually, the family become suspicious and arrange for his dismissal.
At this stage, the audience could be forgiven for thinking we are dealing with a psychopath, but it slowly becomes apparent that David’s behaviour springs from a personal tragedy and is unlikely to lead to any serious malpractice.
Roth takes the opportunity to allow mere vapours of his inner turmoil to escape through the efficient, caring exoskeleton. He snaps unreasonably at a member of the staff in his gym for handing him a towel without
Ill at ease: Tim Roth
the plastic wrapping. His furious running regime seems to point towards further attempts at emotional displacement. When he ends up working for an older lady with advanced cancer, the opportunity arrives for a mutual release.
Franco builds his story like the most elegant of jigsaw puzzles. There are no clumsy explanations as to where the characters he encounters fit into his troubled backstory. Questions are asked about the murky subject of assisted dying, but no broad, simplistic answers are offered.
What of the baffling last shot? Well, we won’t say anything, beyond pointing out that it has already triggered mild fury in some critics. You must investigate for yourself.