Cinequest 19 Screener
French / Inuktitut
102 Minutes
Benoit Pilon

Tiivii (you’ll recognize Natar Ungalaaq’s angular face from THE FAST RUNNER) is an Eskimo living on a rushing river in the far north of Canada with his wife and two daughters. It is 1952. A French medical ship anchors and the natives board it for a check-up. Tiivii is found to have a lung disease. His family is sent away as he is taken on a two month boat ride to Quebec City for treatment. His biggest worry is that his family won’t have enough to eat. “Who will hunt food for them?”

Upon arrival at the modern hospital, it becomes clear that no one on the staff speaks his language and he doesn’t know any French. His hair is cut and his native clothes are disposed of. The doctors can’t explain to him what his sickness is, but through some pantomime and the use of a calendar, Tiivii is told that he may need to stay in the hospital for two years. He is placed in a ward full of coughers, who look at him in wonder. The first meal he’s supposed to eat while in the hospital? Spaghetti. For a man who’s never used utensils.

This fish-out-of water story continues until, after missing his family terribly, he makes a break for it. He sleeps in barns, sings traditional songs to himself, and tries not to freeze to death. He is brought back and mounts a hunger strike. His dismal life in the hospital becomes much better when a kind nurse transfers a native orphan to his hospital. He is fluent in both French (“you know the White language? Yes, it’s easy”) and Inuktitut. The boy teaches him about modern life and he teaches the boy hunting techniques and tells him stories passed down from generation to generation.

There isn’t a whole lot more to the plot than that. There is two-way culture shock. A piece of raw salmon is almost giggled over, while a Christmas feast barely registers. Male-female social conventions are tested. And a strong bond is formed between the man and boy, who are both unsure of their place in a large, French-speaking city in Canada.

The incredible face of Ungalaaq is so expressive and honest that not much more needs to happen. When he says he misses his family, there isn’t a doubt in our minds. This film tells a unique story. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone is trying to help Tiivii. But he wants to get back to his tent and his family.

THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here:



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2 Responses to “CE QU'IL FAUT POUR VIVRE”
  1. [...] Originally posted at the MichaelVox Review Blog [...]

  2. [...] AS THAT) — Iran — Housewife and mother feels invisible and artistically stiffled 10-CE QU’IL FAUT POUR VIVRE (NECESSITIES OF LIFE) — Canada — Inuit man taken from his home and family for TB [...]

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Written by Michael W. Cummins