I didn’t know much about the film “Chronic” before sitting down to see it here at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. I knew it starred Tim Roth, who can currently be seen staring down adversaries in “The Hateful Eight.” After walking what appeared to be a “walkable distance” from another location (it was not), I didn’t much care what it was about; I was just glad to finally be sitting down.
“Chronic” was written, directed, and produced by Michel Franco and made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. The film follows the days and sometimes nights of Roth’s character, a home health care nurse, as he lifts, feeds, and bathes patients dealing with a host of debilitating ailments, ranging from the frustrating immobility of a recent stroke to the haunting effects of chemotherapy treatments. And when I say it follows him lifting and feeding and bathing his patients, I don’t mean that it shows snippets of such activities in order to give us a primer on what he does. Instead, the film shows the tedium of these dignity-destroying scenes nearly in real time, or at least what feels like real time. It reminded me of watching the characters in Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” as the husband helps his struggling wife get from one side of the room to the other, and we the audience watch nearly every painstaking step. These scenes can illustrate for the audience just how long it takes, just how much patience it takes, to accomplish what would have otherwise been quick and efficient tasks. They can invoke empathy and understanding. But at what point is it just tedious?
At what point do you say…okay, I get it, now get on with it? “Chronic” takes its time setting up Roth’s day-to-day. There is no point at which the plot then switches to something else. It’s not as if the first act is setting up that Roth is a home health care nurse before he robs a bank or before he gets carjacked. His job is part of his backstory, or perhaps a result of it, and it’s what will ultimately contribute to his fate. And the long, seemingly monotonous scenes lull the audience into thinking there’s not much more… until the film slaps you across the face and pummels you like a rag doll with its loud gasp-provoking final scene. It’s an ending that you will either find brilliant or infuriating, or both, but tedious it is not.