Mexican director Michel Franco has been a rising star in Latin America, and his fourth film, “Chronic,” is one of the main films in competition this year at the Cannes Film Festival.
His previous movies include “Daniel and Ana” (2009), “After Lucia” (2012) and “A Los Ojos” (2013). But “Chronic” is his English-language debut, and it’s powerful. It’s also depressing, with a rather big twist.
Tim Roth stars as David, a nurse who provides care to terminally ill patients in their homes. It’s clear from the beginning, with his patient Sarah (Rachel Pickup), that he’s emotionally invested in his patients’ care. He has been with Sarah, who suffers from AIDS, for a long time. And when she dies, he moves through a succession of clients.
In all the cases, we see a close-up view of dying, from the accidental soilings to the bathings and in-bed exercises. David goes about his duties with care, even though he ends up being accused of sexual harassment in one case — unjustifiably so.
His most heartbreaking case is with Martha (Robin Bartlett), a wise older woman who has children who never visit her — and look for any excuse to stay away. We don’t know the reasons for this alienation, but Martha doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
When she begins chemotherapy, she hires David to help her get through the difficult days and nights. And the two begin to form a bond through the horrors that she starts facing. And when she gets the final diagnosis that her cancer has spread, she turns to David and asks the unthinkable.
As David, Roth does his usually expert job, trying to maintain a professional demeanor while facing some of life’s indignities.
But Martha is the one who’ll break your heart.
I doubt that this movie will play well in the United States, at least among most audiences. But Franco does a good job of taking us inside the lives of people who are dying, and the movie deserves a chance.