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Friday, August 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Moira Macdonald
"Seducing Doctor Lewis," a movie with so much charm that you're practically blinded by the twinkle in its eye, unfolds in a northern Quebec fishing village so tiny that everyone knows everyone else, and no one has any secrets. Until, that is, Dr. Lewis comes to town, and Ste. Marie-La-Mauderne is turned topsy-turvy, trying to keep a secret known to everyone but the new arrival.
Director Jean-François Pouliot, working from a screenplay by Ken Scott, nicely creates a whimsical mood here; you don't quite believe that real people would behave this way, but you want to believe it, and for the most part that's enough. And he takes his time establishing his story, which has some surprisingly poignant moments. The town, with its 125 inhabitants, has been depressed for some time; its fishing industry has slowly shut down, and most of the men line up weekly for welfare checks, remembering longingly the days when they worked for a living.
All are excited, then, by the prospect of a factory opening in town, but there's a catch: The company won't build the factory without a resident doctor. Enter Dr. Lewis (David Boutin), a Montreal surgeon who makes the mistake of speeding, high on cocaine, on a road patrolled by Ste. Marie's ex-mayor. A deal is arranged: If Dr. Lewis will practice in the town for one month, the charges will be dropped.
And thus begins the town's elaborate plan of seduction, from learning cricket (Lewis' favorite sport) to fake fishing trips (someone in scuba gear plants a frozen fish on his hook), to leaving money for him to find on the path from his house every day. Led by retired fisherman Germain (Raymond Bouchard), an agreeable fellow with a peppering of gray stubble and a voice like a low-key foghorn, the villagers tap the doctor's phone, cook his favorite foods and try to transform their town into one man's paradise.
It all sounds like a bit much, and occasionally it is, but the movie has such affection for its characters (even Dr. Lewis emerges as a pussycat) and its setting that it all goes down like a nice fish dinner. Bouchard, who looks and acts like Topol as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" (he's even perched on a roof at the end, and I was disappointed that he didn't break into song), is an actor of great warmth; you root for him and for the threadbare town. Their scheme, we gradually learn, has little to do with money and everything to do with pride.
Like its fictitious town, "Seducing Doctor Lewis" is fully populated with characters, some of whom clearly have stories not entirely explored: the pretty girl who works at the post office and behind whose enigmatic smile lies another movie; the bank manager who cashes the welfare checks and, his voice on autopilot, chides the men for not making even a small deposit. (On his desk sits a portrait of his grimly unsmiling wife.)
You'll enjoy spending a little time with these people, as the film performs a low-key but irresistible seduction of its own.
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