In 1952, an Inuit hunter named Tivii with tuberculosis leaves his northern home and family to go recuperate at a sanatorium in Quebec City. Uprooted, far from his loved ones, unable to speak French and faced with a completely alien world, he becomes despondent. When he refuses to eat and expresses a wish to die, his nurse, Carole, comes to the realization that Tivii's illness is not the most serious threat to his well-being. She arranges to have a young orphan, Kaki, transferred to the institution. The boy is also sick, but has experience with both worlds and speaks both languages. By sharing his culture with Kaki and opening it up to others, Tivii rediscovers his pride and energy. Ultimately he also rediscovers hope through a plan to adopt Kaki, bring him home and make him part of his family.
French-Canadian filmmaker Benoit Pilon is an observer of the human condition. His protagonists are often engaged in an unspoken struggle that can either unexpectedly break or strengthen them; the turning point directing the audience towards their place in the world. In The Necessities of Life, a thoughtfully composed drama set in 1950s Canada, cultural shock is the fulcrum, when an Inuit hunter is sent thousands of miles to Quebec for tuberculosis treatment.
Tiivii (Natar Ungalaaq) has to leave his family and their traditional life behind, exchanging the broken white lines of the icy north for the urbane right angles of a contemporary city. The only thing that bonds him to the men in his TB ward is a persistent cough, one that portends his demise as he sees others grow weaker. 'Can your machine tell if I will die?" he asks an X-ray technician, no longer in wonder at technology but facing his own mortality.
Pilon doesn’t dwell on the idea of the noble savage, although the crude ramifications of the neo-colonial era’s good intentions are touched on. Instead he focuses on a man retreating inside himself, unable to deal with the world he now lives in. It’s only when a resourceful nurse, Carole (Evaline Gelinas), introduces him to an Inuit orphan, Kaki (Paul-Andre Brasseur), familiar with both cultures, that Tiivii starts to move forward.
Their relationship is deliberately low-key, never mawkish, and each offers the other a kind if hope: Tiivii has someone he can communicate with; Kaki has a link to a world that he can already feel slipping away. Like the stern, sparse strings that provide the score, The Necessities of Life is focused on delineating the basic needs of the soul. It refuses the explicit or extraneous.