In 1952, an Inuit hunter named Tivii with tuberculosis leaves his northern home and family to go recuperate at a sanatorium in Quebec City. Uprooted, far from his loved ones, unable to ... See full summary »
In 1952, an Inuit hunter named Tivii with tuberculosis leaves his northern home and family to go recuperate at a sanatorium in Quebec City. Uprooted, far from his loved ones, unable to speak French and faced with a completely alien world, he becomes despondent. When he refuses to eat and expresses a wish to die, his nurse, Carole, comes to the realization that Tivii's illness is not the most serious threat to his well-being. She arranges to have a young orphan, Kaki, transferred to the institution. The boy is also sick, but has experience with both worlds and speaks both languages. By sharing his culture with Kaki and opening it up to others, Tivii rediscovers his pride and energy. Ultimately he also rediscovers hope through a plan to adopt Kaki, bring him home and make him part of his family. Written by
Review: The Necessities of Life/Ce qu'il faut pour vivre 9*/10
It's a tale of hopelessness, terror, confusion and desperation, and Ungalaaq makes you feel all of that. The Necessities of Life has done well on the festival circuit and was Canada's entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, although it didn't make the final cut to be in the running Sunday.
Language barriers are no problem with sub-titles, but even without them I think the film would still work just in how Ungalaaq manages to get so much across with expression and pitch. Éveline Gélinas as a sympathetic nurse is also very good, as the relationship between her and Tivii shows that common language is not an impediment to either friendship or understanding. I also liked Denis Bernard in a small role as a sympathetic priest that tries to help Tivii adapt an orphaned Inuit that's also a patient in the hospice; some genuine laughs are mined out of their visit to the monsignor.
This proves that things aren't all black and white in the story. The actions of the government are not driven by I think some imperialist mentality, but by the notion that they were genuinely doing all right by the Inuit by taking them far from home and treating them in spite of everything. Their self-deluded altruism may have blinded them to certain facts on the ground, but Necessities isn't a story about the right-or-wrong of government policy. It's the story of one man's struggle to get some semblance of control of his situation, and whether or not he can maintain a sense of self so far from home. It's a simply powerful story that works its magic in small and unexpected ways.
At times filled with humor and warmth and at others feeling compounded by isolation and a hint of claustrophobia, Necessities of Life reaches out from the past and across cultures to remind us how fragile we are in a number of equally important ways. Is one's health worth a trip hundreds of miles away from home and being thrown into the deep end of some strange culture? It's a tough question, and while I think I know my answer, it's up to the audience to make up there own minds as to whether Tivii's journey made him the worse for ware, or worn for the better
In examining what constitutes the necessities of life, Pilon presents a variety of options communication, belonging, acceptance and family. But chief among them is dignity.
Seen at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
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