NYFF 2017: Serge Bozon’s Mrs. Hyde

On Film / The Daily — Sep 30, 2017

Serge Bozon’s Mrs. Hyde premiered in Locarno in August, when we gathered a first round of reviews. It screens once more tomorrow (October 1) as part of the New York Film Festival’s Main Slate, and Bozon and his star, Isabelle Huppert, will be there. The following evening, Monday, Bozon will be at the Quad to watch, for the very first time, Ida Lupino’s Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951), and he’ll take part in a discussion of the film after the screening.

Jordan Cronk’s spoken with Bozon for Film Comment: “Following the absurdist slapstick riff Tip Top (2013), Bozon has reimagined Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic parable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the help of his longtime screenwriter, Axelle Ropert, who also wrote Bozon’s offbeat musicals La France (2007) and Mods (2002), in addition to directing her own films.” Cronk and Bozon discuss the director’s “particular approach to comedy, the genre’s capacity for confronting topical subject matter, and the evolution of a filmmaking sensibility that is in increasingly short supply in both America and abroad.”

Mrs. Hyde is “a bracingly odd paean to pedagogy,” finds Melissa Anderson at 4Columns. “As the beleaguered vocational high school physics teacher of the title, Isabelle Huppert displays her talent for impeccable screwball timing . . . Mrs. Hyde upends categories while astutely calling attention to the country’s racism. The science prof’s students are almost exclusively young men of African and Arab descent: pupils from whom the least has been expected and demanded. Mrs. Hyde’s classroom directive—‘Think, all of you, together’—should replace France’s national tripartite motto.”

“Mrs. Géquil [Huppert] has a soft spot for Malik (Adda Senani), a disruptive but clever student,” writes Peter Goldberg for Slant. “She's strangely protective of him, but Huppert's half-caring, half-insidious portrayal of Mrs. Géquil's looming presence and private tempestuousness hints at just how much damage the teacher could (and will) inflict on him. . . . The school's principal, played by Romain Duris, is a hip, over-honest bureaucrat who wouldn't feel out of place as a stand-in for The Office's Michael Scott, while Mrs. Géquil's husband, Pierre (José Garcia), is an absurdly genteel stay-at-home cook and piano player. At Mrs. Hyde’s best, all of these personalities help Bozon to put the entirety of the French school system on trial.”

Then, of course, comes “the day [Géquil] gets struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, and undergoes a transformation that cracks the shell of her placid existence and disposition,” as Demi Kampakis writes at Vague Visages. “Finding an inner strength that empowers her to be more confident, inspired and (sexually) voracious, Géquil slowly assumes the persona of her Mrs. Hyde alter ego, and the physical aspect of her metamorphosis is rendered in the form of a golden aura that radiates throughout her body as she roams the streets at night in a trance-like state. Resembling a sleepwalking jack-o-lantern, Bozon’s vision of Hyde’s appearance reflects the internal change her character experiences, and there is a certain dream logic to the magical realism of these scenes.”

“Bozon drew on his experience teaching high school students in the Parisian banlieues,” notes Chloe Lizotte at Screen Slate. “There’s something intriguing about using Jekyll & Hyde to dramatize systemic educational issues, but the film’s blend of socially conscious drama, science fiction, and wacky satire never congeals.”

“The film is a trifle, albeit one spiked with mirth and malice,” finds Jordan Ruimy at the Playlist. But for Dustin Chang at ScreenAnarchy, Mrs. Hyde is “a social commentary that packs a punch wrapped in a screwball comedy form. Highly recommended.”

Updates: “Once more,” writes Ioncinema’s Nicholas Bell, “pronouncedly unmoored from traditional formulations of drama, comedy, or political context, Bozon delivers another example of his highly distinctive universe, and allows Huppert free reign, who seems to revel in playing a character who veers from neutralized to, well, radioactive.”

“What starts off, with reckless ambiguity, as a sour indulgence in stereotypes of both the right and the left—though more of the right, with its lampooning of hip-hop culture and of moral decline—morphs into a wild science-fiction comedy, complete with simple but spectacular special effects,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “With his antics, Bozon offers a philosophical vision, presenting a model of authentic progress that’s also a model of authentic regression. His speculations, involving the ultimate connection between enlightening education and violent authority, suggest that, as a well-educated thinker, he’s experimenting on himself as well.”

Updates, 10/7: “From its sitcom-style setup to its flame-out of a finale, Mrs. Hyde maintains a complete air of tonal nonchalance that some may find frustrating,” writes Odie Henderson at RogerEbert.com. “For those wishing to connect the dots, however, Bozon drops some intriguing ideas about incontrovertible scientific fact versus the mutable nature of the human experience. . . . Only [Huppert] could pull of the film’s climax, perhaps the most intense physics lesson ever captured on film. Mme. Géquil—or is she fully Mrs. Hyde at this point?—teaches the tenets of Physics 101 as if her life depended on it. We’re privy to several unrelieved minutes of lecture, enough to send the physics-averse running for the exits. But if you do leave, you’ll miss the film’s hilarious and mysterious denouement. It plays out over the end credits like a preview for the next Marvel movie.”

For Vulture, Too Bugbee talks with Huppert “about being consistently cast as a teacher, why she thinks of herself as a comedic actor, and her love of rap music.”

Update, 10/9: “So I like to think of myself as not being an actress, but rather being a non-actress,” Huppert tells Miriam Bale at W. “And I think by just saying that it might make people think about what it is to be an actress.”

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