Chronic reaction: Cannes 2015

Tim Roth stars in this affecting tale of a man caring for chronically ill patients. Here's Jamie Graham's reaction...

The penultimate film to play in the 19-strong competition strand, Michel Franco’s Chronic proved something of a tonic, albeit a bracing one, for journalists visibly wearied by a long, frantic festival and the 8.30am time slot.

At times hard to watch but always dignified, it follows home nurse David (Tim Roth) as he cares for three terminally ill patients, his almost obsessive need to help people perhaps locked in his own familial past, which is (partially) revealed in drip-feed manner.

There is considerable drama along the way – David finds himself sued for sexual harassment, is implored to participate in euthanasia, and reconnects with his estranged teenage daughter – but Franco has no interest in histrionics. Filming with a largely static camera in long, naturally lit takes without recourse to music to manipulate emotions, he records a wounded, closed-mouthed man going about his day-to-day business of washing, clothing, feeding. Patients are carefully communicated with and granted physical comfort via shifting body weight, propping pillows or, in one lovely scene, holding a male stroke-victim’s hand while watching a film together, and problems that arise are met quietly or else accepted.

Likewise, a minimum of fuss is made over what many would consider the more unpalatable aspects of the job, with Franco’s camera neither flinching nor lingering during the body washes that follow bodily malfunctions.

Roth is awards-worthy, disclosing David’s heavily scarred but still-beating heart with a minimum of words, while Mexican writer-director Franco is similarly taciturn in style, here building upon the less-is-more approach he exhibited in bullying pic After Lucia. It is greatly frustrating, then, that this thoughtful filmmaker should choose to end his poised, generous drama with sudden cruelty. It is an ending so misjudged it threatens to undercut the entire film – a huge shame given all that has gone before.

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