Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jason (and his daddy) preview Cinequest: The Necessities of Life

This is a powerfully moving, understated drama and the Canadian submission for Best Foreign Language Picture at the Oscars (it's in French and Inuit, so it counts as a foreign language picture. It made the short list, but not the final nominees). It's inspired by a true story of a tuberculosis outbreak in the 1950's. Tivii is a hunter and a good provider for his wife and two daughters. However, when a boat comes by with doctors inspecting everyone, they find he has tuberculosis while the rest of his family doesn't. He is given no choice, and is unceremoniously pulled away from them. After a journey of a few months, he's placed in a TB ward of a hospital in Quebec City. He's the only native there (perhaps the rest died en route? Or were sent to other hospitals?), he understands no one and no one understands him. Some of the patients are openly hostile to him, making fun of—for example—how he doesn't even know how to eat spaghetti. This part is slow at times, but the slow pace helps to emphasize his isolation. He does make friends with one patient as well as a nurse. And most importantly the nurse introduces him to Kaki, a little native boy who grew up with the whites and speaks both French and Inuit. Finally a translator, and a friend, and in many ways the son he never had. Later there's a priest who had worked as a missionary and knows Inuit, and he helps Tivii a lot, too. It's a poignant, emotional, well-acted and well made drama, and as the title suggests it illustrates exactly what the most important things in life really are.

And now, to add an extra perspective on this movie, is a 30 year veteran of the US Public Health Service (Indian Health Service), an expert on Native American cultures, a 20 year veteran of traveling in the Alaska Arctic and working with Alaska Inuits, Inupiats and Aleuts, and my dad, CAPT Stephen P. Wiener (Ret.):

Hello faithful readers of Jason Watches Movies. And a special thank you to Jason for sharing a little bit of Cinequest with his parents on their 2 month adventure in Hawaii. I also was moved by the power of this film. I could see why it made the short list for foreign language picture...but also why it didn't make the final cut. To me, it was a bit ponderous and slow in places. Although Jason correctly intimated that the slow pace helped to emphasize Tivii's isolation, it also served to somewhat derail the pace of the film. That said, I found the cinematography to be exceptional, especially the scenes in the Canadian Arctic. It may sound trite, but as one who has traveled extensively in the Alaskan Arctic, I found the depiction to not only be accurate, but also to capture the vastness, seeming sterility and the unbelievable beauty of the far north. One of the reasons that Tivii loses his will to survive is that he is worried that there will be no one to provide food for his family. But in my experiences in bush Alaska, there is such a sense of community and a realization that survival is so delicate, so that Tivii's worry should not have been “how will his family get the food they need,” but rather, “what will be the effect on the community of having to supply food for three additional people.” For in my experience the family would have been taken of, even to the detriment of the survival of the community. I found myself preoccupied with this question as I watched Tivii's transformation. But in the end, the movie was both satisfying and heartwarming.

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