'Natar is not a great Inuit actor he’s a great actor.'”
Igloolik star shines in new French-Inuktitut film
In the bittersweet new Inuktitut- and French-language film, Ce qu'il faut pour vivre, (The Necessities of Life or Inuujjutiksaq), there's an amusing moment when members of the audience wipe away their tears for a moment and chuckle.
The humour comes when Tivii, an Inuk from south Baffin played by Natar Ungalaaq of Igloolik, finally meets someone with whom he can speak Inuktitut in the Quebec City sanatorium where he's being treated for tuberculosis.
The year is 1952. For Tivii the sanatorium is a place where the cure for TB, which involves bed rest, painful medical procedures, bad food and isolation, feels worse than illness or death.
But hope arrives when Tivii is introduced to a young Inuk boy from Aupaluk called Kaki, who has lived in a southern sanatorium long enough to speak French and understand what is going on.
As the two walk together, Tivii asks Kaki to solve a mystery: where does the water flowing from the taps come from? Kaki says it comes from a river.
Then Tivii wants to know about where the toilet water goes. Kaki says it goes to the river, also.
And that fish I just ate, Tivii finally asks? The river, Kaki responds.
Such moments of humour help break up the otherwise heart wrenching story of how Tivii is taken aboard the C.D. Howe for a lung X-ray and finds himself shipped to Quebec.
It's an experience shared by thousands of Inuit throughout the Eastern Arctic who in the 1950s and 1960s were sent south for TB treatment. Many stayed for long periods in hospitals and sanatoria in Quebec.
Tivii, who is stripped of his hair, kamiks and parka, slowly loses his culture, health and dignity in Quebec City.
But by the time Tivii heads home, he recovers much of what he's lost.
Not to reveal more about the film's plot, but this much can be said: it's a must-see film.
Written by screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Bernard Émond, who has lived in the North, and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Benoît Pilon, Ce qu'il faut pour vivre recently won a major award at the Montreal film festival – the special Grand Jury Prize.
Festival goers also named it the most popular film at the event and the most popular Canadian film. The film is likely to pick up many more awards at upcoming festivals and from film industry events.
As Tivii, Ungalaaq shows his stunning performance as the fast runner in Isuma Igloolik's "Atanarjuat" was no fluke.
"Natar is not a great Inuit actor – he's a great actor. He's really a fine actor. He has all the great qualities of an actor from anywhere in the world," director Pilon said in a telephone interview from Montreal last week.
"He experiences his emotions inside, and his face takes on an inner light. He's a wonderful film actor because he brings a unique presence – and the camera just loves him."
Ungalaaq is not the only star in the film. There's also Paul-André Brasseur, who plays the young Kaki.
A Montrealer of part-Inuit ancestry who speaks fluent French, Brasseur learned the Inuktitut he needed for his role by going over his lines syllable by syllable with Ungalaaq.
As Kaki, he delivers his lines flawlessly.
And Evéline Gélinas also shines in her role as the kind-hearted Québécois nurse who arranges to have Kaki transferred to the same sanatorium as Tivii.
Familiar northern faces in the film include Miali Buscemi, praised by Pilon for her graceful portrayal of Tivii's wife, Guillaume Saladin, as the no-nonsense Inuktitut-speaking C.D. Howe interpreter, and Jeannie Kownirk and Elisapie Isaac as two mothers on board the ship.
The northern scenes were filmed near Iqaluit, where the landscape looks warm, communicating Tivii's sense of attachment to his home. Quebec City appears much colder, thanks to filters on the cameras that give the scenes a bluish tinge.
By the end of the film, both North and South are filmed the same way, so "we're immersed in Tivii's point of view as he learns to live in both," Pilon said.
Most of the film's script is spoken in Inuktitut, with the balance in French. One version of the film features Inuktitut dialogue subtitled in French, while another uses English subtitles.
Pilon said he's eager for Inuujjutiksaq to be shown in Iqaluit and Kuujjuaq – he's only waiting for the movie theatres to order the film, which will eventually be shown on APTN.
To see the film's trailer visit www.cequilfautpourvivre-lefilm.com