Summer blockbuster offers gifts of hope and freedom


Friday, July 25, 2003
In this era of growing cynicism, La Grande séduction (Seducing Doctor Lewis) is a veritable gift. This gem of a movie is a ravishingly witty, deliciously funny ode to all the men and women who struggle to keep their dignity afloat in this modern world.
The story is simple enough and rings true at a time when some regions are having trouble just surviving. It takes place in Ste. Marie la Mauderne, a fictitious, close-knit Lower North-Shore fishing village of 125 souls where every man, including the mayor, has been on welfare for years. In order to get a businessman to build a tiny plastics plant so that they can kiss their welfare cheques goodbye, villagers must first attract a doctor from Montreal to sign up as their physician for five years.
The operation is headed by a trio of resourceful villagers who resort to harmless shenanigans to seduce a young doctor into settling in Ste. Marie. Be it tapping the doctor's phone to find out what he likes so they can fulfill his desires, or planting money on the ground to put a smile on his face, the goal is to get the village to come alive again.
Even when they hand a $50,000 bribe to the businessman to choose their village over another, you can't help but think it's a very small amount compared to what is probably offered in real life. (Remember when former minister Guy Chevrette revealed he had once been offered a suitcase with a $500,000 bribe - that he refused?)
But shenanigans or not, this film is all about dignity. Dignity that is lost when economic circumstances stifle entire towns, leaving nothing but exodus or social aid. And dignity that is found when you can get good work or, as one of the characters puts it: "You can finally tell the government to shove its social-assistance cheque where the sun don't shine."
Those who think men and women choose to be on welfare get an earful when the same character adds: "When you get your cheque on the first of the month, it's not only money you get; it's also shame. You get money for a couple of weeks but shame enough to last you through the whole month."
La Grande séduction is also about happiness in the real world. It's about family, friends and being able to make a decent living in the place where you were born and which you love. It's about tradition in an age where discontinuity feels like the only constant.
On a more political and social level, it's about respect for those who work hard, really hard, to make a modest living and for their ancestors. This respect comes alive in the breathtakingly beautiful opening scene where one character, on the eve of getting his welfare cheque, dreams he is a boy again, watching his father and the other villagers leave at dawn for their 14-hour days of fishing.
Though the subject matter is serious, screenwriter Ken Scott and director Jean-François Pouliot still manage to tell the story with laughter, lots of it. But it's laughter with a social conscience. La Grande séduction is a lot like those great Frank Capra classics: a comedy with a heart and a soul, a movie that laughs along with its characters, not at them.
In other words, it's the antithesis of Les Invasions barbares, the Denys Arcand film. Arcand's baby-boomer "intellectual" characters are self-centred, financially spoiled and profoundly cynical, almost hopeless, toward life and people. Those in La Grande séduction are also baby-boomers, but they radiate hope, respect for hard work and selflessness for the common good. That might sound a bit pretentious, but the movie brings it down to a very human scale.
So it's only fitting that in its first weekend running in Quebec, La Grande séduction beat out the Walt Disney blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean with a record box-office take of $920,000 - the only place in North America where Disney failed to triumph.
But the film's success also has a lot to do with the magic of Harrington Harbour, the village, founded by Newfoundlanders in 1830, where the movie was shot. In a lovely "making-of" documentary by Bruno Blanchet, one of the actors in the movie, he asks a woman who works in Harrington Harbour what it is exactly people find there. "Freedom," she replies. Just freedom.
So at the end of the day, La Grande séduction is really about freedom. The freedom to be real. Not too shabby for a summer blockbuster.

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