Chronic: palliative care or a man’s portrait?

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
Le Monde



About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
This entry was posted in Ageing, animation, critics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Chronic: palliative care or a man’s portrait?

  1. janegrant36 says:

    Great post – though I don’t agree on some points.

    ________________________________ From: ageing, ageism and feature films Sent: 29 July 2016 16:16 To: Subject: [New post] Chronic: palliative care or a man’s portrait?

    rinaross posted: “Holidays. Time to reflect

  2. Rita Ferris-Taylor says:

    Interesting post and although I agree overall with your comments about the choice of a male carer when statistically most paid and unpaid carers are female – maybe I would say Chronic is a portrait of both a man and palliative care. ( I’m also not familiar with many films portraying male carers).

    However, I think there were some issues arising from the film which are universals, irrespective of whether the carer is a male or female; some of the dilemmas and ambiguities of the caring role, eg being on the outside looking in, being expected to carry out very intimate tasks which the family may not be able or want to do and to establish some kind of relationship, yet at the same time being expendable; being sometimes treated rudely eg told to ‘fuck off’ and taking this as par for the course/part of the client’s anger or frustration; the difficulties of carrying out such repetitive tasks which I think came across very starkly and unrelentingly and was emphasised by being on the treadmill in between shifts, even though the shifts themselves are like a form of treadmill; establishing a sometimes close relationship, which I think was evident eg in his relationship with John, yet being expected to maintain professional boundaries ( which this particular male carer found difficult ie -in a creepy way).

    Although he is accused of sexual harassment, we don’t see any actual evidence of this from the carer’s actions in the film itself – he is always seen as acting very considerately, calmly and knowing what to do, when the family members often don’t, and sometimes being overly helpful eg controllingness of taking on extra shifts, establishing a control that sometimes leaves the family members feeling left out or encourages their reliance on him.

    I think this raises interesting issues because it takes great trust, or sometimes just desperation to accept such intimate support from others and so family members may feel both guilty and left out by having to allow his but also on their guard in case of potential abuse. Male carers are probably more likely to arouse this mistrust even through relatively innocuous actions, ie in the film, the accusation is about sharing pornography and the client having erections when showered by the carer; however, what we actually see it that the client initiates viewing pornography ( the carer goes along with it but does try to shut it down) and that when showered by the carer, the carer encourages the client to use the shower hose himself, especially when doing his genitals.
    Where there is some suggestion in the film of the possible sexual intimacy inherent in the contact, it is not through the carer’s actions, so much as the lingering camera shots, focussing on the client’s limbs and the contact involved in transferring clients from their chair, which almost ends up by being a hug ( but apart from the fact that such holds would usually be discouraged on health and safety grounds, is this wrong? is it a transgression of boundaries or a caring touch?). Carers themselves, of both genders, can become liable to accusations even when innocent so have to try to be really scrupulous about how they work, which can then mean there is very little touch in the caring relationship, other than purely functional. To me, it feels more threatening to see a male carer doing intimate tasks for a woman ( eg the first scene with the young woman in the shower seems to me all the more shocking for this reason) – yet the reality due to carer’s workforce being mainly female, is that female carers very often provide such care to male clients and this is rarely questioned or thought shocking.

    I could go on and on but a few final points-
    1. I think, although looking grimly realistic, the film portrayed such seemingly affluent homes, mainly like furniture catalogues, that is didn’t really show the disorganisation to the home that can occur in these situations, eg lack of space for equipment, things looking untidy etc

    2. Dave, the carer, had limitless time to be with his clients – long 1;1 shifts – which in this country are not likely to occur unless you are very affluent. More likely is a few short contacts throughout the day by a carer rushing from one place to another, underpaid and overworked and certainly not able to sit down and watch tv with clients!! Or pressure for the client to go to a nursing home against their wishes

    3. I think it did contribute to the dilemmas about assisted suicide and what can happen when there is no legal access to this with attendant safeguards.

    Lots more could be said, but will end there.

    Rita Ferris-Taylor

  3. rinaross says:

    Thank you for your reply Rita and insights into the issues involved in the problems of caring for the dying, I do agree with everything you say. My point of view is just that the film does not deal with any of them. It would be interesting to examine the texts of the reviews and see if they are at all enlightened about the very complex situations carers are faced with. I see the main focus of interest of the film as being the psychology of the carer.

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