Seducing Doctor Lewis (15)

Sep 13, 2006
Cranbrook Film Society

I once went out with a country girl from the stony windswept west of Ireland – Mary, a cattle farmer’s daughter. She showed me some pictures of her baby daughter surrounded by kittens before a turf fire. “Cara loved those wee things” she smiled at the memory “I drowned the lot and told her they’d all gone to good homes”. She looked hard at me and then nodded, content her meaning was clear. She was a country person and I was not. It didn’t work out. But Mary would have liked and understood the people of St Marie La Mauderne, the heroes of tonight’s film.

The film is set on the harsh Atlantic coast of Quebec, with poor land, and blighted fish-stocks. The people speak a clashing rasping kind of French like their empty metal nets dragging rocky seabeds. And they drink unapologetically with a dress sense that never amounts to more than getting clothes on the right way round. All they want is work and in that way they need never go anywhere near the town and why as Mary would have said “would you want to do that anyway”. The screenwriter and director one suspects were country people.

The film is in a tradition of films about remote communities and their wily, charmingly eccentric characters. “Whisky Galore” set the template, of course, and “Waking Ned” is a more recent cinema example. Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero” comes from the same rural stable and TV series like “Monarch of the Glen” or “Ballykissangel” testify to urban Britain’s enduring fondness for escapist fantasies of the countryside.

The narrative takes the form of the city dwelling “innocent”, secure in his own sense of cosmopolitan superiority, being manipulated by the fundamentally decent locals into furthering their ends and ultimately re-evaluating his own life. The recently re-made “Wicker Man” casts the same narrative in a much darker direction. In this case it is a Doctor who is on a kind of community service but needs to commit to stay so the villagers can pursue an investor who might build a factory in the village. In that light “Seducing Doctor Lewis” does at times seem rather predictable and there surely won’t be anybody in the cinema tonight who will not know way before the end whether the Doctor will stay or not!

Does that mean then, that the film is condemned to be that most short-lived of cinematic pleasures, whimsy? Perhaps not, I think there is a bathetic realism always undermining the surface whimsy. In the opening scenes we hear that in the beggar-your-neighbour world of globalisation they have to tell the investor they won’t tax him if he builds. Even as things start to go his way the Mayor keeps a beer handy and engages in behaviour worthy of an ASBO. The villagers know far too much about each other’s sex lives and economic salvation comes in the most bathetic of forms. But it is most interestingly noticeable in the absence of aesthetic treatment of the landscapes and seascapes. Unlike in “Local Hero” there is no explicit musing over the beauty and wonder of the natural world. No lingering tour de force cinematography of the sun setting over the restless Atlantic. No sentiment. Poor land and empty seas. The Romantics after all were City people.

The director Jean Francois Pouliot has spent most of his career as an award-winning director in advertising and was at one time responsible for all of Macdonald’s promotions in the Francophone world. The film’s writer Ken Lewis also plays Richard.

Jean-Fran├žois Pouliot | Canada | 2003 | 108 minutes | 15