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Published on January 1st, 2006 | by Guest Editor

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Seducing Doctor Lewis

Director: Jean-François Pouliot
Cast: Raymond Bouchard, David Boutin, Benoit Briere, Lucie Laurier, Rita Lafontaine
Rating: 3.5/5

Arriving on these shores a few years after its completion, Seducing Dr Lewis is a little French-Canadian film that has attracted praise – and audience awards – on the festival circuit, and it’s easy to see why. Debut feature director Jean-François Pouliot has crafted a crowd-pleaser which, in contrast to the more challenging fare that festival audiences are generally exposed to, is easy to like and too charming to seriously take issue with.

From the off, we know we are in a world of fantasy. Introducing the sleepy fishing village of St. Marie-La-Mauderne in its heyday through the childhood memories of now-grown Germain (Raymond Bouchard), Pouliot establishes a style most reminiscent of ‘Amelie’; playful, whimsical, and with a streak of cheeky humour that works perfectly. It does its job in drawing the audience into the story’s world, but it equally highlights the fact that nothing that follows is quite as inventive or unique (and not of the standard of Jeunet’s magical classic), further emphasised by the very similar sequence that closes the film.

The story flashes forward to the present, where advances in technology have rendered the little village and its inhabitants, effectively and literally, redundant. Their only hope lies in the prospect of a factory being built on their land, but for that to happen they must have a resident doctor, something that has proved impossible for St. Marie-La-Mauderne throughout its history. So things seem set to remain until, via convoluted events only believable to script-writers and far too contrived to retell here, big city dweller Dr Christopher Lewis ends up on their doorstep for a five-week enforced stay. Thus the scene is set, and Germain hatches a plan to ‘seduce’ the good doctor into a permanent practice in the village, therefore securing a factory, work and eternal happiness for all. Unfortunately, the village is a deathly dull place, so Germain and pals must lie, cheat and generally deceive Lewis into believing his life would be better with them. Using underhanded tactics they discover the doctor’s likes and dislikes, and endeavour to reshape their village to suit his preferences perfectly.

It’s a brand of storytelling that lives or dies on the strength of its performances, and initially, Seducing Dr Lewis’s players seem unequal to the task. The characters are generic types, and both Yvon (Pierre Collin), the eccentric old neighbour, and Henri (Benoît Brière), the bank manager, are pantomimic and grating, evidence of Pouliot fishing too broadly for laughs. But thankfully these seemingly misfiring elements find their focus with the arrival of the doctor, beautifully played by David Boutin. His wide-eyed, unquestioning joy at discovering a place that seems tailored to him is a real pleasure to watch, and the fun of knowing that his delight is misplaced makes his naive enthusiasm all the more charming. His character also works as a link to the ‘real’ world for the audience, creating a sane centre for the more silly aspects of the story to revolve around. This is where the film finds its heart, and as Ken Scott’s script investigates the problems besetting the doctor’s personal life, paralleled with Germain’s unravelling plan, the story reaches a natural emotional climax.

Littered with memorable set-pieces (including a great running gag about cricket), the script continues to invent fertile situations to extend its one-joke premise, and once all the characters are in place the laughs come easily. Though it offers no surprises plot-wise, and concludes things too hastily, Seducing Dr. Lewis is a very entertaining and satisfying piece of cinema, and certainly a success on its own terms.

Aka: La grande séduction

Review by Paul Gallagher of The Skinny


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