Life’s lit­tle mys­ter­ies

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

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.

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