Thursday, November 12, 2009

On-Demand: Benoît Pilon's THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE

How would it feel for an Inuit hunter, living with wife and daughters in an isolated Arctic climate, to be suddenly yanked away to "civilization" and placed in a hospital that seems more like a prison? You'll find out, should you watch a new film by French-Canadian writer/director Benoît Pilon (shown below) called THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE which has just

been released to On-Demand viewing by IFC. I highly recommend it. The scenario would be bizarre enough for the poor Inuit, were it taking place today, but this film is set in the 1950s -- at a time when these natives were Eskimos and Canada and Canadians were not overly eager to interact. Culture clash has rarely seemed more unfair, bizarre -- or quietly, intensely moving.

Over a half century ago, few felt a need to educate Inuits or learn their language, so poor Tivii, the film's hero, finds himself in limbo when he and his family travel to the ship that docks only rarely to offer medical aid to the natives up north. His diagnosis -- Tubercu-
losis -- is what traps him in a kind of good-intentioned hell (it also saves his life), and it's during his enforced sanitarium stay that his world seems to wither but at the same time, oddly, blooms. Though most of the staff and patients around him prove thoughtless at best, hurtful at worst, there are a very few who take enough interest in Tivii to start the ball rolling: a young fellow in the next bed, a kind nurse, and a third, most important character, who can finally bridge the language gap.

That gap is immense, and so are some of the cultural differences that crop up, most tellingly in a sexual suggestion that is simply normal for one person, while appalling to the other. The Necessities of Life is a slow movie, but so beautifully detailed and arranged are its incidents that I had no trouble staying involved and rapt. The movie's sense of quiet and its measured pace allow us to live in the moment. When something important occurs, we relish it all the more. Short-listed by the Academy for last year's Best Foreign Film, "Necessities" also won the Grand Jury Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.

The sense of time & place is exquisitely handled here and the per-
formances match the mood created by the filmmaker and his crew. In the lead role -- and on camera almost the entire time -- Natar Ungalaaq (from Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) is memorable, as is Éveline Gélinas as his kind and sensible nurse. The film's final im-
age, simple and direct, will probably be a "keeper" for you. So red-
olent of all that has come before, of the gap and its bridging, of me-
mory and loss, tears are coming to my eyes just thinking about it.

The Necessities of Life began its On-Demand run yesterday, and will be available for the next three months via many TV-reception providers. Click here, then find "Check Availability in Your Area."

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