Dir. Jean-Francois Pouliot. Canada. 2003. 108mins.
Making its US premiere in Sundance's World Cinema programme, Seducing Dr Lewis (La Grande Seduction), which premiered in Director's Fortnight at Cannes last year, has been described as a Quebecois version of The Full Monty. But it's closer in spirit to films such as Waking Ned Devine or the Ealing classic Whisky Galore, where an isolated village engages in communal subterfuge towards a common goal. The comic tension lies in wondering which event will happen first: a villager exposing the charade or the hoodwinked outsider catching on to the game.
It was a huge local hit - its $5.2m (C$6.7m) gross made it the highest-grossing Canadian film of 2003 and the ninth-highest-grossing film in the province's history, edging out 1993's Jurassic Park. Most Quebec films released beyond the province's borders are generally hindered by parochialism and Seduction is unlikely to be an exception - local references and in-jokes abound. Sundance, not known as a launch pad for comedies, will be a good test-ground: if they get it in Park City, they'll get it anywhere - except perhaps France, where Quebec comedies rarely succeed.
In a fictional village on a fictional island on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, life has been the same for centuries: the men work the sea, the women tend the hearth and at night conjugal bliss keeps the home fires burning. But that's all gone, along with the fish. Now the residents troop off in the morning to the post office to collect their social assistance cheques and then file to the bank to cash them. Their boats are idle and even their mayor has abandoned ship, having taken a job as a highway patrolman way off in Montreal. Then opportunity knocks - only to be quickly snatched away: the village is selected as the location for a plastics factory, but it lacks a local doctor required by industrial regulation. The villagers, lead by Germain (Bouchard), set about luring a medical man, resulting in a mass mailing to the province's doctors that leads to a montage of physicians in a state of hilarious incredulity.
One of these recipients is Dr Christopher Lewis (Boutin), a cocaine-snorting Montreal sophisticate. But when he is pulled over in his Porsche and the drugs are seized, his prospects are bleak. Luckily the officer is the former mayor. If Dr. Lewis agrees to relocate to the island'
The film's strengths are in the characters of the villagers and their efforts to maintain the conceit. Bouchard is particularly good as an ordinary man forced to take charge in an extraordinary venture. Less successful is the character of Dr. Lewis, which is blandly drawn, although actor Boutin does his best to provide dimension.
There are some wonderful comic moments but at other times the mirth machine labours in overdrive. Dr. Lewis is a serious Anglophile - he loves cricket - so he is delighted by the miraculous sight of the islanders engaging in a game. This despite the fact the sport has no following in Canada. Clearly, the good doctor is still high on some other drug.
Ultimately, the film lacks the emotional core - the stakes aren't high enough and the goal, a factory, is neither sexy nor noble enough - that marks a comedy for international break-out in the manner of Good Bye, Lenin!.
Prod co/int'l sales: Max Films
Can dist: Alliance Atlantis
Prods: Roger Frappier, Luc Vandal
Scr: Ken Scott
Cinematography: Allen Smith
Prod des: Normand Sarrazin
Ed: Dominique Fortin
Music: Jean-Marie Benoit
Main cast: Raymond Bouchard, David Boutin, Pierre Collin, Benoit Briere