Rating: * * * *
Verdict: Handsome and touching.
An epidemic of tuberculosis that devastated the Inuit people of northern Canada in the 1950s is the backdrop to this compact and sensitive drama of cross-cultural communication.
Ungalaaq (who took the title role in Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner, the first feature made in the Inuktitut language) plays Tivii, who lives on Baffin Island (the large landmass between continental Canada and Greenland), hunting and fishing in the icy wastes.
In the brief summer, a hospital ship arrives to test all the locals for TB and Tivii is taken back to Quebec City for compulsory treatment: the trip alone is three months and his stay is expected to be two years, in a hospital where the principal treatment is fresh air and bed rest.
Tivii's response to living in the city recalls that of the title character in Kurosawa's masterpiece Dersu Uzala. He's confused, homesick and isolated. His health deteriorates and he makes repeated futile escape attempts. "I have food but I am not hungry," he says in voiceover that speaks his thoughts. "I'm not alone, but I have no one to talk to."
At last his nurse (Gelinas) tumbles to the idea that his spiritual, not just physical, malaise must be treated and engineers the transfer of a young patient who speaks Inuktitut - not to mention a side of fresh salmon, thus equipping him with two of the necessities of the title.
The story that unfolds is slightly episodic, even formulaic, and it's not without its sentimental streak but it's immaculately done and deftly avoids demonising the medical staff, whose apparently callous actions are driven by good intentions. The cinematography - whether in the gloomy burnished interiors or of the treeless expanses in the island sequences - is spellbinding. Recommended.
Cast: Natar Ungalaaq, Eveline Gelinas, Guy Thauvette, Vincent-Guillaume Otis, Paul-Andre Brasseur, Denis Bernard
Director: Benoit Pilon
Running time: 102 mins
Rating: PG (mild themes) In Quebec French and Inuktitut with English subtitles