Movie review: The Necessities of Life

Originally published in City Pages, April 14, 2010

It’s difficult to describe The Necessities of Lifewithout making it sound like either a relentless downer or a mawkish tearjerker, but Benoit Pilon‘s soft-spoken feature avoids those pitfalls with a matter-of-fact approach and a trio of wonderfully restrained performances. Natar Ungalaaq (Atanarjuat—The Fast Runner) is remarkable as Tiivii, an Inuk hunter and family man diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent from his Far North home to a sanitarium in early-’50s Quebec. Separated from his wife and daughters and only partially grasping the reasons for his internment, Tiivii struggles to connect with the French-speaking “Whites” who surround him. Ungalaaq’s expressive face is tasked with conveying everything from fascination at seeing x-rays of his own chest to bafflement at eating a plate of spaghetti to despair at facing another day of isolation. Ungalaaq carries much of the film, but he’s well-assisted by Eveline Gelinas as his empathetic nurse and Paul-Andre Brasseur as a taciturn Inuit orphan whose arrival in the ward gives Tiivii a new lease on life. The film’s exploration of cultural barriers and human connections may be familiar, but Pilon’s documentarian approach elevates a potentially sentimental storyline to something much more affecting.—Ira Brooker

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