It’s the 1950s, and an epidemic of tuberculosis is hitting the northern Inuit communities in Canada. When Tivii, a world-weary family man and deft hunter, is struck particularly hard by the illness, he is taken away from his family and sent off to Québéc City to convalesce in quarantine. The experience is bewildering for him, every aspect of city life holding his attention in a childlike stupor. His time at the sanatorium is exacerbated by his inability to speak the native tongue, resulting in an unspoken social exclusion from the other patients, and a constant longing for the open-air landscapes of his home community. Noticing his isolation, nurse Carole brings him a young bilingual patient named Kaki, through whom he regains a sense of identity and builds a vital rapport.
It’s a pleasant enough story, and with no unnecessary complications, it should appeal to everyone. Lead actor Natar Ungalaaq has a wonderfully weathered face filled with expression, inviting predictable comparisons to David Gulpilil, another famed ‘native’ actor. Director Benoît Pilon and writer Bernard Émond do a decent job of exploring the titular concept with enthusiasm, and Tivii’s struggle for acceptance is a magnetising theme. Unfortunately, it’s improbable that people will remember this in the near future, given its familiar story arc and gentle pace. Those looking for a more comprehensive study on the culture of Canadian Inuits would do better to check out Zacharias Kunuk’s exceptional drama Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, a film in which Ugalaaq also played the lead.