Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 3, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Robert Rotondo
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache
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Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
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Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
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Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow

Benoît Pilon's


reviewed by



Sylvain RichardSylvain Richard is a film critic at Arts & Opinion. He gave Necessities of Life, which played at Montreal's 2008 Montreal World Film Festival, 3.6 out of 4 stars. For the rest of his ratings, click HERE.

It would be interesting to track what percentage of modern film deals with borders or situations that bring into play different cultures and belief systems, or what Samuel Huntington has memorably (pessimistically) coined as ‘the clash of civilizations.” Since we all read the papers and/or partake of e-journalism, we know that in real life the mixing of cultures doesn’t always produce a happy out come, just as most films that attempt to deal with this very sensitive and tricky subject fall short of excellence. Among those that have recently impressed are the films of Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven) and Secret of the Grain by Abdellatif Kechiche. Even more outstanding is The Necessities of Life, which played at the 2008 Montreal World Film Festival and which won Benoît Pilon the 2009 Genie Award for best director, Bernard Emond for best screenplay and Natar Ungalaaq as best actor.

Set in the early 1950s during the tuberculosis epidemic that devastated Canada's unvaccinated aboriginal peoples, Tiivii, an Inuit hunter played by Natar Ungalaaq, who starred in Zacharias Kunuks’ acclaimed Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner, is sent to a Quebec sanatorium for a cure. Rudely (without his consent) uprooted from his home, weakened from illness, unable to understand the language and culture, he has, to all intents and purposes, given up on life and is preparing to die. But his compassionate nurse, played by the sublime Éveline Gélinas, will not allow this to happen. She arranges for an Inuit boy, Kaki, to be transferred to the sanatorium. The relationship becomes mutually enriching as the boy helps Tiivii understand white man’s culture while the latter discovers a reason to live in passing on Inuit tradition to Kaki.

Without overplaying the racist card, the tension of the film is sustained by the everyday, almost reflexive intolerance exhibited by groups of people when introduced to someone from foreign culture. Pilon holds up a mirror to an aspect of racism that doesn’t make headlines, but is the kind many of us unwittingly bring to the table, that allows everybody to be seated at the table so that the ignorance upon which the intolerance is based cannot withstand the necessary give and take that transpires among people sharing a common place (the sanatorium) and common fate (their illness). The viewer, like the TB patients, comes to accept Tiivii in proportion to his gradual but inevitable demystification. As the latter explains Inuit culture to the boy Kaki, everyone becomes party to his sincerity, decency and humanity -- the effects enhanced by striking cinematography that contracts the dreamlike scenes of Quebec’s north against the claustrophobic confines of the sanatorium.

The Necessities of Life is Benoît Pilon’s first feature film, which followed his highly regarded documentaries Roger Toupin:: Epicier Varite and Nestor et les Oublier. In the spirit of the very gifted Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her, All About My Mother), Necessities is about possibilities, about relationships forming against the odds, against all preconceptions, where what is best in human beings cannot help but to manifest no less than nature springing eternal after a long and hard winter -- and without a trace of didacticism. That this eloquent and most satisfying film made the Academy’s shortlist of nine contenders in the Best Foreign Language film category, but did not make the final cut is an injustice that will not diminish its excellence nor its meaning for those who make the effort to see it.

For the ratings of 2008 Montreal World Film Festival, HERE.
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