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Michel Franco’s Chronic, which won the award for Best Screenplay at Cannes despite having precious little dialogue, is a true feel-bad movie, filmed with unnerving precision. Franco favors long takes and shots framed by doorways, and there is an undeniably voyeuristic sense when watching David (Tim Roth), an in-home nurse, give his terminally ill patients sponge baths in seemingly real time.
Chronic doesn’t traffic in cliché or glamorize sickness. Rather than spoon-feed platitudes, it presents failing bodies and leaves the audience wondering what to think. David is a tricky character, reserved almost to a fault. Other than occasionally jogging, going to the gym and having terse interactions with his daughter, he seems to have almost no inner life outside the realm of his difficult work. There is no score, and the camera frequently lingers on David and his patients long after they have said their few words.
The closest thing to a humorous moment comes when one patient suddenly decides to watch porn, and the sounds coming from his computer are a giveaway. Even this, though, is twisted into misery: The patient’s family decides to sue David for sexual harassment. David acts as a surrogate body for his patients — holding them, washing them, dressing them — and while his work is valuable, it’s no fun to watch.
The film ends with a shock that almost feels cheap given the weirdly intimate and complex scenes that precede it. Chronic forces viewers to look closely at things they might rather ignore, and intentionally holds its emotions at a distance.
Written and directed by Michel Franco
Opens September 23, Museum of the Moving Image and Cinema Village