Ce qu’il faut pour vivre (The Necessities of Life)

The tuberculosis epidemic in Canada in the 1950s affected hundreds of people, and reportedly claimed as many as one in every thousand lives. Among the Inuit population of the north—which then numbered some 10,000—many hundreds fell victim to the disease, and had to be removed from their surroundings and sent to sanatoriums in Québec, Montréal, Ottawa and Alberta—the only places which could provide treatment. Benoît Pilon’s 2008 film, quietly and belatedly released in cinemas here last week, tells the (fictionalised) story of one such patient, Tivii. He is taken from his family, stripped of his traditional clothing, and even given a conservative, Western haircut—deprived, thereby, of the titular necessities. Unable to communicate—he speaks no French, only Inuktitut—he feels, as he says at one point, more alone in the hospital surrounded by Whites than he did when once lost on the barren plains of his homeland. The film is an affecting, slow-burning character study which thankfully makes no attempt at manipulation through music or any other device, seeking instead to simply show emotion through simple, elegant cinematography and honest, plain acting.

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