All it takes to seduce Judge Diane Wild is a village full of hicks. Raspberry truffles don't hurt, either.
"Have you thought about what happens after he signs?" Germain Lesage
We all know the type: seducers who put their best face forward, hiding their imperfections, feigning enthusiasm for their object of affection's interests, collecting precious personal details to drop into later conversations. Then, as the seduction progresses, they may foster jealousy and withhold favors to wield power over their seducee.
Now, imagine the seducer is an entire village of 110 inhabitants, and the seducee is the big-city doctor they desperately need to keep their hometown alive.
Facts of the Case
The tiny Quebec fishing village of Sainte-Marie-la-Mauderne has seen its way of life ebb away with the depletion of fishing stocks and the lure of the nearby city. The men line up for their welfare checks week after soul-sucking week; even the mayor, Réal (Jean-Pierre Gonthier), reluctantly leaves to become a cop in big, bad Montreal.
There is hope, however. The village may be able to lure a factory with its resulting steady jobs if it can get away with the lie of doubling their population, and if they can beat a rival town's tax breaks, and if they can sign a doctor to a five-year contract. The first two are within their grasp, but they have been looking for a doctor for years. "It's time to stop looking and find one," says Germain (the wonderful Raymond Bouchard), the new mayor, so he organizes a campaign to advertise the island village's charms to every doctor in the province of Quebec. No one bites.
But one day, Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin), an arrogant, cocaine-snorting plastic surgeon, is caught driving under the influence—caught by ex-mayor Réal. As punishment, Dr. Lewis is sent to Sainte-Marie for one month, in which time the town must convince him to sign on for five years. So begins the seduction.
The townspeople clean up the village as best they can, placing a "Heritage Site" sign in front of the ugliest house that can't possibly be made less of an eyesore. They pretend to be obsessed with Dr. Lewis's favorite sport, cricket, covering the local bar's framed hockey pictures with poses of famous cricketers, and staging a match which conveniently ends when he gets too close…so he can't notice they don't have a clue how to play the incomprehensible game.
They tap Dr. Lewis's phone and use the knowledge they gain to their advantage. A Beef Stroganoff Festival is created at the restaurant after they learn it's his favorite dish. Germain bonds with him while fishing, telling him about his (fictional) deceased son, after learning Dr. Lewis never had a father. They strategically place $5 bills in his path—"because finding money makes everyone happy."
When Dr. Lewis starts to fall for the town, and possibly for the beautiful Eve (Lucie Laurier), Germain is determined to reel him in using any means necessary. But how will the now-vulnerable Dr. Lewis feel when he realizes that the line that hooked him was baited with lies?
This is a lovely little movie. It doesn't necessarily make you think, doesn't necessarily have a moral to convey, it's "just" an endearing story with endearing characters—and that's enough. There's more than a little Waking Ned Devine in it, but sometimes the world could stand a little more of that charm and a little less Hollywood cynicism.
There's something quintessentially French-Canadian about Seducing Dr. Lewis (or at least, my vision of that stereotype), something that makes me wish I was French Canadian. It betrays a love of language that's evident even in the English subtitles, which capture the magic of the original. It's sensual and sly, beginning and ending with orgasms and cigarettes. And it doesn't judge its characters; two of the most sympathetic protagonists are an arrogant, potentially promiscuous recreational drug user, and a conniving, openly dishonest conman.
Despite the signs of poverty and the precariousness of the village's existence, life in a fishing town is romanticized here. These people are proud of their way of life, and the bonds of friendship between them (combined with the beautifully craggy scenery) let us in on what they are fighting for.
But most of the villagers are hicks—there's no way to sugarcoat it. When they design the campaign to send a promotional flier to every doctor in the province, Germain and his buddies are introduced to the wonders of the Internet, available only at the local school. Amazed that the addresses are available at the click of a mouse, one asks the cybersavvy one: "Can you get pictures of nurses?" When Germain devises the cricket-loving scheme, his friend Yvon says: "That's disgusting. I mean, sushi is bad enough." "No, no, cricket the sport," Germain explains. "They race them?" is the incredulous response. But the characters are treated with affection, respect, and humor by the script and by the actors playing them.
The bank manager, Henri (Benoît Brière), is a wonderful example of how this movie defies our jaded expectations of a character's role. He is the one with a stick wedged up his butt, who believes his hideously decorated house is very "city" and worries about being replaced by a bank machine. His friends joke that he already is a bank machine, a pawn to the head office with no power of his own. Yet as the movie goes on, Henri shows his humanity and while the stick remains lodged, it's not as much of an impediment as it first appears.
It's refreshing too that the secondary seduction—Dr. Lewis's flirtation with Eve, the postal clerk whose beauty and intelligence seems to set her apart from the other townspeople—is barely a subplot. She is firmly in control of their encounters and rebuffs the otherwise-attached doctor, but there's enough of a hint of attraction to sustain some tension.
Seducing Dr. Lewis has a definite bittersweet quality to it. There's cruelty in the villagers' deception which is only partially redeemed because they realize it and because we're privy to their desperation.
The movie's biggest weakness is the too-rushed final resolution, which is a little unsatisfying, even more so because it needed only another scene or two to be more convincing. But by that time, the movie had landed me hook, line, and sinker, so it wasn't too difficult to fill in the gaps myself.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is often too soft, and features some washed out colors, but there's a warmth to its earthy tones and no major artifacts to interfere with the image. The French audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, but neither mix is very dynamic and there's little to the surrounds. There are no extras, except a theatrical trailer.
After its DVD release in Canada last year, on any given trip to the video store you were bound to hear someone recommend this movie to a friend. It's a crowd-pleaser, sly and sweet. Rent it at the very least, and I bet it will seduce you into bringing it home for keeps.
The court has been completely seduced by this movie and will overlook any misdemeanors of the characters or the plot. Not guilty.
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