Cultural exchange


Natar Ungalaaq stars in The Necessities of Life (Ce Qu’il Faut Pour Vivre) as an Inuit hunter forced by illness to a Quebec City sanatorium.

The Necessities of Life (Ce Qu’il Faut Pour Vivre) is a fish-out-of-water drama about an Inuit hunter forced by illness to move into a Quebec City sanatorium during the tuberculosis epidemic of the 1950s. Separated from his family and culture for the first time, in an alien place where he cannot speak or understand the language, Tivii loses the will to live. His sympathetic nurse, Carole, arranges for a young Inuit boy named Kaki, to be transferred to his sanatorium.

Kaki, who also speaks French, offers his elder companionship and a means to communicate while Tivii takes a paternalistic interest in renewing Kaki’s connection with traditional Inuit culture. Tivii rediscovers his pride and energy and the bond between the two hospital patients grows stronger.

The film, opening March 13 at Fifth Avenue Cinemas, received eight genie award nominations and was Canada’s submission for the 2009 foreign language Oscar. Critics have praised its sensitive handling of emotional life and the absorbing central performance by Natar Ungalaaq (star ofAtanarjuat: The Fast Runner), while Benoît Pilon, a director crossing over from documentary to make this debut feature film, provides a steady hand at the helm.

Cultural exchange is the name of the game at the Ozflix: Australian Film Weekend, a four-day showcase of films from Down Under at the Pacific Cinémathèque (

Among them is mid-teen, coming-of-age drama Black Balloon. It follows Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) who is desperate to fit in and meet girls at his new school in Sydney, but who suffers embarrassment about his autistic brother Charlie. A budding romance with attractive and spirited Jackie (Gemma Ward), who is in his swimming class, helps Thomas learn about acceptance and worth. As a slice of life in a crazy, loving family, it’s a slight film, but enjoyable thanks especially to excellent performances by Toni Collette as the devoted, workaholic pregnant mum and Erik Thomson as the military dad who takes advice from a teddy bear. The pretty stars look older than their parts, but this has the authentic feel of someone’s personal story.

Among Ozflix’s crop of shorts, animation and features, there’s a double-bill screening of two parts of the documentary series Great Australian Albums. I watched Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads, the 1996 album that started life as a joke (an entire album of ballads about murder), but went on to become the band’s biggest, commercial success.

As someone who has acquired a taste for Nick Cave’s brooding, gothic lyricism over the years, I found this hugely enjoyable. The creative process is well documented – amazingly, the band still records live performances in the studio on tape – and the mix with archive footage going back to Cave’s punk roots decades ago is done well. In interview, Cave comes across as suave, wry and characteristically dark.

Persuading pop princess Kylie Minogue to duet with him on surprise hitWhere the Wild Roses Grow was not as difficult as one might think even though Cave admits the lyrics were “seriously creepy… with a capital ‘K’”. Interesting to learn that his simmering music video with songstress PJ Harvey on Henry Lee was done in one take. After its 52 minutes, I wanted to get the album. It screens with sunny, indie pop success of the eighties,The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane (15th, 5pm).

Finally, Michael McGowan’s One Week is a road trip movie about a young man (Joshua Jackson) who, when diagnosed with cancer, decides to ride a vintage motorcycle from Toronto to Tofino, BC. It’s described as “an ode to the Canadian landscape” with a soundtrack that includes Sam Roberts, Stars and Patrick Watson. 


Robert Alstead maintains a blog at

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