Endurance and persistence are the principal characteristics of Tim Roth’s chronically depressed character. He is stuck in a motion of caring for those close to death supposedly in order to feel closer to life himself. He breathes their air and consumes it for his own good. It is the paradox of life and death and good lord do we stroke them both.
If there are two more things deeply haunting about this film, it’s the first and last image. An opening sequence precedes the films title card ‘Chronic’, after which appears the skeletal structure of an anorexic lady being washed under the shower by Roth. The shot lingers, frozen to its framing, as is the method of Franco’s use of the camera, and we soon feel the strength of every droplet of water as it carries a piece of life away with it. This will not be the first time that we witness the waking of death; instead every image throughout the film will be stained with its remnants. Ironically, the last image appears as a flash, the paradoxical metaphor is complete and the unexpected becomes a reflection of the expected. In other words, a twist occurs in the way that it should: as a surprise routed in thematic significance.
Trying to articulate an order in which to explain one’s experience viewing this film is difficult to come by. The spectator may experience boredom, anxiety, hunger, anger, weakness, sickness, sadness, and even hopefulness, the latter not being an adjective of focus for Franco yet nevertheless still given its moments. It is a case of going so far in one direction that it becomes impossible not to taste a little of the opposite. As humans we feel great sadness, but the cliché here is that we know we must feel alive to experience such feelings, and because of this sadness we are psychologically able to experience great happiness. It is the sprinkles of salt and pepper mixed into the overwhelming curry.
Roth’s character moves from patient to patient and becomes more and more dependent on those who he cares for, while they equally and more necessarily return the favour. From mental health 101 to old age and cancer, there is no escaping the demise that carries this film and fuels its unbearable nature. This is all attributed to the performances that uncover certain mysteries surrounding death and seek to hide nothing by way of concealment. The true evidence is that which Franco’s camera penetrates: the observation of human emotion, fragility and expiry. The method of filmmaking is restricted, no close-ups, no music that doesn’t appear within the world of the picture (diegetic), no cutting ahead of time, no wild camera tracks, the picture appears quite simply as is. It is a remarkable way to tell stories and makes me wonder why we ever felt the need to tell them differently.
International sales by Wild Bunch. UK Premiere TBA.