Holidays. Time to reflect on some questions I asked myself after a few viewings. In my post about Wrinkles I wrote: “But one cannot help being intrigued by the predominantly male atmosphere of the film when it is common knowledge that there are more women than men in care homes, that carers are more often women, that occupational therapists are usually extremely sensitive to their patients. Was this intentional I ask myself? or a prime example of sexism?” I still have no response to this question.
But my first reaction to Chronic was ” Yet another male carer! Why? When the majority of carers and hospice workers are female, why feature a male end-of-life home carer?” Here I have an answer. Believing that a film should speak for itself, I have usually avoided researching the pronouncements of directors about their films but as is evident about my writing about Cox’s A Woman’s Tale I broke this rule. So I trawled the net for information about Michel Franco, Chronic’s director.
Franco: The main research came with my personal experience with my grandmother. There were different nurses working shifts, some got fired, some went away. And so in six months I saw a parade of nurses and that’s when I decided to work on the story. Originally, it was supposed to be a female character in Mexico. Then I met Tim [Roth] and we got along and we started to research the movie together. Changing the gender was easy. It’s almost the same story, nothing changed. *
Changing the gender was easy? I find this amazing. Franco changes his experience of mainly women palliative carers and their relationships with their patients and family in Mexico to a man’s character study in an American suburb*. A chance encounter between a film director and a famous actor at the Cannes Festival results in a film that receives accolades but in no way informs us, touches us or raises our consciousness about end of life or the relationship between cared for and carer. The long takes supposed to make us think give us nothing to think about except the deterioration of bodies that need washing and an inscrutable male carer with a past revealed in fragments. The spartan mise-en-scene and soundtrack , the still camera, the bare interiors convey no warmth, or empathy.
Finally why are the critics so uncritical? The majority or English language reviewers speak of Tim Roth’s superb acting and are all impressed by the film. At the Cannes Festival, it was awarded the Scenario Award to the surprise of those present at the Coen Brothers presentation **.
Henry Barnes in the Guardian is an example of the kind of praise it receives : “Chronic asks us to reassess how we approach the end of life: how we can prepare for it and leave it with less pain.” Does it really? Family exclusion, sexual harassment, assisted suicide, and the final shock of an ambiguous ending does not to my mind prepare us for the end of life. The film is about a man who helped his disabled son die. The director abuses palliative care functions to expose his problem.
To me, biased by my interest in sexism and ageism in the cinema, I see this film as an appropriation of women’s experience. Something that we do not see in Amour where the carer is also a man, or in A Woman’s Tale where there is also a relationship between director and famous actor. ***
*** I have posted about these films in this blog.
As an aside the well respected reviewers of the French publications below found the film as poor as I did.
Le Nouvel Observateur
Studio Ciné Live
Cahiers du Cinéma
Le Dauphiné Libéré