The time of the harvest moon

Serge Bozon on Mrs Hyde and a First Encounter

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Serge Bozon having a Hard, Fast And Beautiful First Encounter with Gavin Smith
Serge Bozon having a Hard, Fast And Beautiful First Encounter with Gavin Smith Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

First Encounters at the Quad Cinema have included Kenneth Lonergan and Edward Yang's Yi Yi, John Turturro and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali, and two directors who have films in the Main Slate of this year's New York Film Festival, Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird watched David Lynch's Blue Velvet and The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) director Noah Baumbach's First Encounter was Bruce Robinson's Withnail And I.

Serge Bozon, who is in the Main Slate program with Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde), starring Isabelle Huppert with Romain Duris and José Garcia, chose Ida Lupino's Hard, Fast And Beautiful with Claire Trevor, Sally Forrest, Robert Clarke, Kenneth Patterson, and Carleton G Young for his First Encounter.

Isabelle Huppert in ‪Serge Bozon‬'s Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)
Isabelle Huppert in ‪Serge Bozon‬'s Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)

Hard, Fast And Beautiful is the story of tennis champion in the making Florence Farley and her mother Millie who has big plans for her daughter and, in extension, herself. Florence's father, Will, is ill and unhappy about his wife's way of dealing with things; he knows she is disappointed with the life he made for the family.

Florence herself is torn between her love for Gordon whom she meets while he is working at a Santa Monica country club and the prospects of international travel and tennis title wins. Lupino's film has a unique rhythm and look and a deep emotional resonance. Mother, father, child and the way they interact are devoid of cliché. Camera angles, sets and sounds are often startling.

Following the screening, I had a couple of comments from the audience. This was also my first encounter with the film.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Talking of strange shots, I've never seen a bed placed this way. [In a scene, the parents' beds are placed parallel to the screen, head to head]. It's not only that they can't touch but they don't even want to look at each other.

Serge Bozon: That's true what Anne-Katrin says. Also because of the Hays Code, you couldn't have two people from different sex in the same bed. Each time I see the father [portrayed by Kenneth Patterson] I like it very very much because he has, what's important, not a single charisma as an actor.

Wonder man ‪Serge Bozon‬ in front of Italian poster of Wonder Man, starring Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo and Vera Ellen
Wonder man ‪Serge Bozon‬ in front of Italian poster of Wonder Man, starring Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo and Vera Ellen Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

He's very ordinary. But he's got a strange frankness in his way of playing. Also his lines are so direct, even in this scene we feel that. The audience feels that he knows for a long long time before that his wife is lost for him.

It's a very strange direction, because you have in a lot of movies people obsessed with money, obsessed with greed - like in Billy Wilder movies, many movies. But the mother [Claire Trevor] is not exactly this. She is not obsessed really with money or success. It's more a down-to-earth frustration. She doesn't want so much money or even luxury. She just has a kind of intimate frustration, that is also very basic.

You don't have scenes like, for example, in every movie she would have a beautiful dress, look at herself in the mirror, then go on to a cocktail and trying to be very … In fact, she doesn't want anything else than glory for her child. Her frustration has something pure. She is not perverse in a deep sense like in a Billy Wilder movie, for example.

AKT: The sound does something similar to the sunflower shot [at the start of the film, an enormous sunflower almost awkwardly shapes our perceptions of the people]. In the scene when she [Sally Forrest as Florence] transforms, there is a toy, the little panda bear toy, that makes such an annoying noise.

SB: Yeah, it's very strange because it's direct sound and they didn't have the money to do post-synchronisation. But it's true that the toy makes terrible noise. It's very unusual in a Hollywood movie to have some kind of an abstract noise in it.

Serge Bozon's cinema is no stranger to doubles and doublings and detoured forces. Madame Géquil (Huppert) is the science teacher you don't remember. She is like a dried pressed flower that fell out of a book. Fragile, timid, frightened, she has a preference for pale yellow cardigans and pink skirts and sensible shoes, and speaks with a high, shaky voice when she enters the classroom. The students make fun of her - one splatters ink from his fountain pen onto the back of her blouse while she writes a formula on the blackboard.

The principal at the school (Romain Duris) whose pants and ties match the colors of the school's walls and doors, has everything and nothing under control, it turns out. It is the time of the harvest moon and one day a thunderstorm is brewing.

Florence (Sally Forrest) with Gordon (Robert Clarke) at the pool in ‪Hard, Fast And Beautiful
Florence (Sally Forrest) with Gordon (Robert Clarke) at the pool in ‪Hard, Fast And Beautiful

Monsieur Géquil (José Garcia) is a stay-at-home husband. He cooks food his wife hides in a napkin - a daily routine, we have to suppose, because the couple of dogs living next door to their little house are already eagerly awaiting her gift at dinnertime. Isabelle Huppert gives Spencer Tracy a run for his money. Madame Hyde, emerges with fiery hands that make more than the ice at the fish market melt.

At the Quad Bar earlier Serge and I discussed his latest film Mrs. Hyde, which is a highlight of the New York Film Festival.

Anne-Katrin Titze: In Mrs. Hyde, is there a connection between the harvest moon and the lightning? Or is the connection nature?

Serge Bozon: It's a good question. I don't know. It was a visual idea that I had. It's also true that you can have such moons. It's very rare. It's special effects. I liked at the beginning of the movie that every lesson is related to something you can watch visually. A drawing on the blackboard - it's visual. You draw a triangle and you draw a line. A cage is something that you can watch, even the electricity you can watch.

And also the first lesson is about the moon, the strange moon - it's also very atmospheric because it's the lights, the moon is a strange color. It's just the beginning of the transformation. Even nature begins to change before her or with her. I hope it's just like, I don't know, wind in the air. It gives to her private transformation something more atmospheric. Something which resonates within the nature and the bigger sense of the world. The sky, the moon, the mountains, the rivers.

AKT: Another detail - the two girls, Mrs. Hyde's students are talking in unison. On the one hand, it's funny. On the other, so many girls that age say the same things, speak the same way.

SB: It was also a very instinctive idea. I thought it was funny, as you say. In a classroom where everybody is a boy, only two girls, very pretty. So you think it's girls, they will be sweeter, be more gentle, more tender - not at all! They are even more aggressive than the boys but in another sense of the word. In a more bureaucratic sense. Not really in a rebellious sense.

Hard, Fast And Beautiful poster
Hard, Fast And Beautiful poster

Also, there was a kind of mirror effect between the two girls because one is blonde, the other has brown hair, one has a very dark voice, the other a very high-pitched voice. One is very like a little peasant, a country girl, the other one is more like a rocker. It's not a political statement that I wanted to make. Like the girl who lives next door to the Géquils.

Those are not the main characters of the movie but we have little things - it's a little strange, also it's a little scary because it does relate to things like the social question or the difficulty to teach or the way that you don't find anybody who helps you even when you're a girl. Many notes to play a single melody, with lots of small variations which make it more like crystal clear - like a resonance. Also my movie is not naturalistic, it's not realistic.

AKT: Of course not.

SB: By beginning with two girls talking exactly at the same time, you see directly that it's going to extend.

AKT: It explains a tone immediately. Doubles is also something that you like. [As does co-writer Axelle Ropert - see the two oppositional protagonist brothers in Miss And The Doctors]. You like doubles everywhere, so of course you had to have two dogs.

I love the dogs and the moment you introduce them because it explain everything about the past routine. It's the best short cut. It explained that she does this [bring them the food her husband cooked and she doesn't eat] every night.

SB: Exactly. It's very clever that you got that. Some of the people - they don't understand this. They ask what does it mean? It was supposed to mean that every night she doesn't eat. In fact, she gives it to the dogs. Her husband is very protective, but he is a little blind. He doesn't see the depth of her anxiety, of her failure and of her troublesome life.

AKT: He cooks and feeds her and he doesn't notice that she doesn't eat it right next to him. Later on he does notice that she eats.

At the Quad Bar there is a big Italian poster of Danny Kaye in Wonder Man.

AKT: Have you seen Wonder Man?

SB: No, I haven't seen it. [He walks over to the poster] I like very much Danny Kaye, especially the song that he sings with his daughter, Daddy Dear. [Serge starts singing] "Daddy dear, daddy dear…"

AKT: I haven't seen Wonder Man for ages. We have to ask Gavin if they are showing it. Danny Kaye plays twin brothers, doubles!

SB: Ah!

AKT: One of them is a magician who is killed and his ghost comes back ...

SB: … to haunt the brother?

AKT: Exactly. I thought this is very much up your alley.

SB: I like this.

Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde) will have its theatrical premiere in Paris on March 28, 2018.

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