2008, Movies

Ce qu’il faut pour vivre (2008, Benoit Pilon)

This is an affecting but amusing film about an Inuit man taken to Quebec City for tuberculosis treatment in the 1950s. Though it is a simple film – and arguably a variation on a story that has been told many times – its unique perspective is a needed one, and it’s worth your time.

This is a very deliberately-paced film and yet they manage to compress a lot of time into 100 minutes. The film takes a matter-of-fact approach to the story as basically the series of events in this guy’s life as he is taken from a place he knows to a place completely unlike any he’s ever known, to get treated for something he doesn’t understand (and nobody can explain to him). Despite basically only hitting the highlights, the film still maintains a good of sense of what it must be like to be in a hospital for months without relief, especially back before TV in hospital rooms was a normal thing.

The matter-of-fact treatment also helps convey how utterly confounding everything is for the protagonist, who doesn’t know the language so, for much of the film cannot even get answers to his numerous questions, about everything from his disease to the size of the plants. The sense of isolation is really well done and when he tries to die, you understand why.

I also like how little music there is, as I think the temptation here is to give emotional cues with music. Instead, what music there is is deployed subtly, allowing you to focus on the starkness of every aspect of the situation.

Even though this story is fictionalized, it is still the kind of story that needs to be told and needs to be heard. A film like this, almost entirely from the perspective of an aboriginal, reminds us how little shrift we give to most of their stories. I didn’t know about the tuberculosis epidemic in the 1950s – I never learned about it. And I never even thought about what it must have been like for someone living traditionally to be committed to a modern hospital. It’s not an experience I ever even thought about before.


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