Natar Ungalaaq, star of “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” has the leading role in a new film premiered last week at the World Film Festival in Montreal. The new film by the Quebecois director Benoit Pilon, “Ce qu‘il faut pour vivre,” is about an Inuit man named Tivii (Ungalaaq) who, in 1955, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and has to go to Quebec City to receive treatment, leaving behind his wife and children.
The film concentrates on his alienation in a place where he cannot communicate with anyone, though a kindly nurse tries to help him. The story was based on a TB epidemic among the Inuit in the 1940s and 1950s, and on the real experiences of alienation experienced by people who were sent to institutions in cities for medical treatment where they were unable to communicate with others.
Apparently, however, the film is much more than a simple story about the cultural alienation of an Inuit man; it effectively explores interpersonal relationships and the idea implied by the title—what is necessary to make a person want to keep on living. Variety gave it a glowing review: The film “knows just how to eke maximum poignancy from its events without seeming to manipulate for tearjerking effect. Ungalaaq’s lovely performance easily sustains viewer involvement,” reviewer Dennis Harvey writes.
Writer and blogger Elizabeth Adams, who lives in Montreal and Vermont, attended the international premier and happened to walk into the theater behind the director and the cast of the film. She describes the movie in her blog “The Cassandra Pages,” writing that “the film is beautifully directed, strong, and compelling, anchored by the convincing performances of Ungalaaq, who loses his will to live when he cannot communicate with the French doctors, nuns, and fellow patients who surround him, and Evelyne Gelinas as the nurse who takes this unusual patient on as her personal responsibility.”
The film, in French and Inuktitut, opened commercially on Friday last week. A version with English subtitles, called “The Necessities of Life,” is also available.