The Necessities of Life
Starring Natar Ungalaaq and Eveline Gélinas. In French and Inuktitut with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, March 13, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
The Necessities of Life—one of the finest films of this decade—begins in 1952 on remote Baffin Island, where an expert hunter called Tivii (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner’s great Natar Ungalaaq) is living the way his ancestors did for hundreds of years, with only a few machine-made objects to aid his skills. Something less benign has come from the south, as well, and before he can grasp what’s happening, he’s shoved onto a boat full of Inuit quarantined with different stages of tuberculosis.
Watch the trailer for The Necessities of Life.
Soon, Tivii finds himself in a Quebec City sanatorium, surrounded by trees that would comfort us but frighten someone used to unbroken vistas. The hunter speaks no French, and Inuktitut is unknown in this businesslike place, where his odd speech and long hair give him dumb-freak status on a ward where he will be stuck for almost two years.
Documentary veteran Benoí®t Pilon, making his narrative-feature debut with a script by Bernard Emond, initially implies that you will witness one culture-clash conflict after another. But the tale is a much subtler look at the frailty of human connections. Doctors and patients eventually grow interested in the quietly magnetic Tivii, and he, in turn, must yield some pride in order to gain something from this involuntary experience.
He makes a particularly strong bond with the most sympathetic, and youngest, nurse (Eveline Gélinas). And she arranges the transfer of a more assimilated Inuit boy (unforgettable newcomer Paul-André Brasseur) who needs to learn about his past as much as Tivii needs to comprehend the future. Moral lessons are not what this Life is about, however; it’s about the faraway places we carry within us wherever we go.