The Necessities of Life

Benoit Pilon

BY Robert BellPublished Jul 6, 2009

On paper, The Necessities of Life seems like a wearisome bit of preciousness served up on a platter of Canadian heritage grants and adamant CBC gesturing, what with its premise of tuberculosis-stricken Inuk Tiivii (Natar Ungalaaq) taken from his Northern habitat and plunked into a Quebec City sanatorium. The thing is, the film is nothing of the sort, demonstrating a keen understanding of cultural difference without dwelling on cliché, subtly and unsentimentally tackling Diasporas and the necessity of hope for the purpose of survival. It takes advantage of our existing history, when a TB outbreak in the '50s forced many Inuit to go to various Canadian cities for treatment, injecting the journey of Tiivii, whose life-threatening illness proves secondary to feelings of disconnect from his wife and daughters. Initially it seems that cultural ignorance and discrimination are on tap, with fellow patients mocking Tiivii's inability to use a fork, but Bernard Emond's script sharply moves past these trifles, tackling relationships that transcend difference. A kind nurse (Eveline Gelinas) orchestrates the move of a young, similarly afflicted Inuk patient (Paul-Andre Brasseur) to the hospital, giving our isolated protagonist someone to talk to and identify with. In the wrong hands these touching friendships in the face of death and difference could have easily dived into cloying waters but noted documentarian Benoit Pilon handles the material with a detached maturity that respectfully asks the audience to think while they engage, a tactic often ignored in a vastly patronizing film market. The end result is a movie that manages to be as touching as it is smart and funny. Included with the DVD release is a feature-length commentary with Benoit Pilon and a "Making Of" featurette in French-only. A trailer and photo gallery are available as well.

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