A good film can make you cry one moment and laugh the next. Director Benoit Pilon's (assistant director on The Pianist) film "Ce Qu'il Faut Pour Vivre" is that type of film. It is a film that brings Canada's big cities together with our largely misunderstood North. We realize that we have more in common with the Inuit rather than being totally different.
The year is 1952 and Tivii (Natar Ungalaaq – Atanarjuat), an Inuit hunter from south Baffin, is diagnosed with TB. He is shipped to a sanatorium for treatment for his tuberculosis. Stripped of all his culture and even his hair, Tivii is desolate in the sanatorium in Quebec City. When his dignity fails so does his health. Tivii soon discovers that the treatment for TB is more arduous than the disease itself. He has to go through painful treatments, awful food, being isolated by language, and imposed bed rest.
A kind-hearted nurse at the sanatorium, Carole (Evaline Gélinas – La Neuvaine), arranges to have Kaki transferred to Tivii's sanatorium with the hopes that the young boy from his culture will pull him from his doldrums. Tivii is at the end of his rope and has even expressed the desire to die when a young Inuk boy (Marc-André Brasseur) from Aupaluk arrives at the sanatorium. Kaki has lived on a southern sanatorium long enough to learn French and understands what is going on around them. Through Kaki, Tivii is now able to communicate with the hospital staff and a whole world unfolds before him.
His relationship with the young boy gives Tivii a reason to live. He begins to carve wooden statues to help him tell stories of their culture to Kaki. Kaki teaches Tivii about things like where does the tap water come from and other 'modern' things. Tivii draws pictures of the animals from his home for Kaki to pass the time. Finding the will to get better through his wish to adopt Kaki and bring him home with him, Tivii fights to recover.
This is a must-see film that tells of the reality that many Inuit had to live through during the 1950s and 1960s. They were taken from their homes and stripped of all that was important and familiar to them. The film, despite its heavy story and message, has won over all who have seen it. Winning many awards at film festivals, making it to the final nine films in consideration for Oscar's Best Foreign Film and nominated for eight Genie Awards; it is one of the more popular Canadian films made in 2008.
Much of the success of the film falls on the shoulders of lead actor Natar Ungalaaq. He is a revelation. All the emotions required of the film show up on his wonderful face. It is nothing less than an elegant performance. He also has a wonderful acting partner in the very young Marc-André Brasseur, who demonstrates a talent beyond his young years. Despite the fact that he did not speak Inuktitut before the film he delivers his lines more than ably.
Director Benoit Pilon has made a quiet, slow and respectful film that will move all who watch it. It never stoops to being inflammatory, but still hits home. He uses his experience as a documentary film maker to really show us how it was for the Inuit who lived this experience. Pilon gets close to his subjects without intruding. We feel and understand Tivii's pain and isolation. How important family and friendship are to all humans is driven home with subtlety. Pilon is never obvious, but we all end up understanding his point. Communication, dignity, belonging, acceptance, and family are the things that are important regardless of culture.