The Necessities of Life

Directed by Benoit Pilon

REVIEWED BY CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 10:41 02/07/2010

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Movies really are the most powerful art form. When a film is made with subtlety, humanity and empathy it can be devastating.

The Necessities of Life is one of those films. It is a rare work of touching beauty that reduced me to tears with its delicate humanity, subtle observation and timeless storytelling. It reaffirms your faith that a great movie can say something beautiful and touch the heart.

We open in the harsh Canadian Arctic of the 1950s where Tivii, a native Inuit, is hunting geese for his young family in this silent frontier. We hear his breath in the cold and his footsteps crunching the snow. A ship's horn breaks the silence and scares away the geese.

On board the ship, Tivii is given health checks along with his wife and two young daughters. But Tivii has consumption and so has to leave his family to recuperate at a sanatorium in Quebec City for two years.

Alone, unable to speak the local French and alienated, he struggles with fears his family will starve without him there to hunt for them. He is also facing the fact he may never return home as he coughs up red blood on the white snow and sees his fellow patients crumble and die around him.

Tivii's alienation is so swiftly, economically and simply evoked with short shots as he listens to the sound of wind in the leaves and peers in bemusement down a toilet. These moments of alienation are powerfully intercut with the white snowscapes of his homeland that he returns to in his dreams.

It is sparse, subtle and epic in its understanding of life's tiny moments. Delicate, sad and, ultimately, human.

It reminded me of the films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu like Floating Weeds and Tokyo Story. It has the same economy of language and subtle ability to put you inside the main character's head without words. This is no small comparison. I consider Ozu to be one of the most talented and haunting film directors that ever lived.

Director Benoit Pilon has an uncanny ability to place the camera in exactly the right place and hold a shot for just the right amount of time. I was reminded of what US film critic Roger Ebert wrote about Ozu: ``He is the quietest and gentlest of directors, the most humanistic, the most serene.

``But the emotions that flow through his films are strong and deep, because they reflect the things we care about the most: parents and children, marriage or a life lived alone, illness and death, and taking care of one another.''

The same could apply to a lesser extent to Pilon.

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It feels like a privilege to watch something so simple and fragile and beautiful. As the traditional annual festival of winter blockbusters fills the multiplexes with bombast and noise, here is a film that stays still long enough to listen, observe and feel.

You will not find many films like this in your life. They should be cherished.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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