CANNES, France (AP) — Death is something we’d all like to avoid. But director Michel Franco thinks a reluctance to look at the end of life is unhealthy.
The Mexican filmmaker’s Cannes Film Festival entry “Chronic” stars Tim Roth as a homecare nurse to the dying. It’s an unflinching film — no music, sparse dialogue — that plants the camera in bathrooms and bedrooms where Roth’s character, David, shares his patients’ most intimate moments.
“When I watch a film, the minute I sense that I am being manipulated, I step back,” Franco said at a Cannes hotel poolside. “I was avoiding (trying) to manipulate the audience. You just show it. I think that’s the most powerful, the purest, way to approach this material.”
Many reviews of the film have included the word “challenging.” Variety noted that the film asks “audiences to do the heavy lifting required to arrive at a meaningful emotional response.”
Not everyone will embrace the film, but 35-year-old Franco has the firm loyalty of his crew. Sarah Sutherland, who plays the estranged daughter of Roth’s character, said she knew from her first audition that this would not be a run-of-the-mill job.
“Immediately afterwards, I got an email saying ‘We’d like you to come back. Please don’t brush your hair, take off your makeup, wear flat shoes,'” said Sutherland, best known as the daughter of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ politician on the HBO comedy “Veep.”
“That’s when I knew that Michel and I would really click,” she added.
Roth praised Franco for looking where many others would flinch.
“Death is the last taboo,” Roth said. “Nobody wants to talk about it. … We have no vocabulary. We do not know what to do. We are helpless, floundering around.”
Roth is in almost every shot of the film, and critics have praised the British actor’s intense depiction of a man who has buried layers of emotional pain. He is a strong candidate for best actor at Cannes’ award ceremony on Sunday.
The actor and director met at Cannes in 2012, when a jury headed by Roth awarded a prize to Franco’s “After Lucia.” At the time, Franco was writing a script inspired by the nurse who had cared for his grandmother after she had a stroke.
“He asked me what was my next movie,” Franco said. “So I told him it’s about a nurse, a female nurse in Mexico. He said, ‘If you change it into a man, I’d love to do it.'”
The role is a change of pace for Roth from his work in the high-energy films of Quentin Tarantino. Roth was in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” and has just finished filming Tarantino’s upcoming Western, “The Hateful Eight.”
Franco said before he met Roth, “maybe it wouldn’t have occurred to me that Tim was perfect for the role.”
But in person, “I sensed something sad in his eyes.”
“Chronic” is Franco’s English-language debut, shot in Los Angeles with a mostly American cast. The director said working in the U.S. film industry meant resisting the urge to supersize his small, simple filmmaking style.
“I am used to doing things pretty much my own way,” Franco said. “I like working with a tiny, tiny crew. When you’re trying to portray intimacy onscreen, it’s better to have an intimate crew as well.
“It was hard to keep it small, but I managed.”
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