Accidental metamorphosis

Serge Bozon on Romain Duris, superheroes, Bertolt Brecht and Mrs. Hyde

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Serge Bozon with Isabelle Huppert, his Mrs. Hyde
Serge Bozon with Isabelle Huppert, his Mrs. Hyde Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde), screenplay by Serge Bozon and Axelle Ropert, cinematography by the director's sister Céline Bozon, stars Isabelle Huppert as Mrs .Géquil, the science teacher you don't remember. The students make endless fun of her. Malik (Adda Senani), who is being teased for a bad leg he had from birth, is particularly hostile.

José Garcia is her stay-at-home husband who cooks for her and is less perceptive than he seems. Romain Duris, the principal of the school where she teaches, wears pants and ties that match the colours of the school's walls and doors.

Serge Bozon on Delphine Caposella's look for the principal in ‪Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)‬: "We tried to do something funny with Romain Duris, a kind of dandy but out of place."
Serge Bozon on Delphine Caposella's look for the principal in ‪Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)‬: "We tried to do something funny with Romain Duris, a kind of dandy but out of place." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At Le Parker Meridien on West 57th Street, Serge Bozon discussed with me the influence of Bertolt Brecht, the costumes of Delphine Caposella (The Apple Of My Eye, Miss And The Doctors), superheroes, the comic talent of Romain Duris, ritualised weakness, and that there is "always a risk in accidental metamorphosis because you have not decided for yourself."

Anne-Katrin Titze: I think everybody knows someone like Madame Géquil or remembers somebody like her. I don't know if you heard in Q&As that people remember that type of teacher? In her case, she has been doing the same thing for thirty years and there is an, I don't know, ritualised weakness.

Serge Bozon: Ritualised weakness, yeah, c'est joli, it's clever, it's a clever way of reading it. I've never had questions in Q&As about people that they thought about by watching Mrs. Géquil but I can say that according to my own experience or those of my friends perhaps, some music teachers could be a little like this.

AKT: Yes?

SB: Very fragile, very obscure, with a kind of strange shyness, almost on the verge of being funny, living in a shadow world, being oppressed by everything that happens around them. Perhaps, music teachers.

AKT: The scene where a students splatters ink on the back of her blouse, where did that come from?

SB: The ink on the back is because I wanted to have something in the first scene about superheroes, you know, like Superman. So, like Spiderman, on her back it's like a cobweb.

‪Serge Bozon‬ on Isabelle Huppert as Madame Hyde: "Very fragile, very obscure, with a kind of strange shyness ..."
‪Serge Bozon‬ on Isabelle Huppert as Madame Hyde: "Very fragile, very obscure, with a kind of strange shyness ..."

AKT: Oh, I didn't catch that.

SB: So I thought ink could look in a not very realistic way like a cobweb of ink. And they say Spiderman, Spiderman, and sing this song. So for me it was a visual rhyme.

AKT: I just noticed the language - in that scene they compare her unfavourably to Spiderman, saying: everybody knows who you are and everybody hates you [as opposed to Spiderman whom nobody knows and everybody loves].

Some of the things that are said towards her seem almost Brechtian, where people can say things like "I am an evil capitalist." In your film, the principal can say to her "Somebody as insignificant as you." This heightened way of telling the story, is that a detour that gets us straight to the point?

SB: It's a difficult question. As a spectator, I like very much the movies where you sometimes have very frontally aggressive lines in terms of social conflicts. In Brecht it's always the case. You can have a very frontal way of despising something or somebody but not for his physical appearance. He talks only for a question of what is his social status.

AKT: Right.

SB: Is he employed, unemployed, where is he employed, is it a factory worker. So this is a thing that I think is quite exciting because it gives you an impulse, a political impulse. I'm going to explain this.

In the movie, it's not always like this because she is transforming herself but throughout, even in the end, this sentence, that you just quoted - "Somebody as insignificant as you" - it's very aggressive. It's very harsh, it's brutal.

Madame Hyde (Isabelle Huppert) with her intern (Guillaume Verdier)
Madame Hyde (Isabelle Huppert) with her intern (Guillaume Verdier)

AKT: Colours are always important in your films and here there is a drastic change between Géquil and Hyde. From the pale egg-colour cardigan to the fire red blouse. Did you film in order?

SB: No, no.

AKT: The costumes for Romain Duris - it's the first time, I think, since The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, that I noticed somebody is dressing like the wallpaper, or rather, to match the walls.

SB: I mean, Delphine Caposella, who works with Isabelle, was the costume designer. And we tried to do something funny with Romain Duris, a kind of dandy but out of place. Not really well done, an almost depressive strange kind of dandy-ness. And it's true that with the walls, it gets to a strangely chromatic mirror effect between his shirts and the walls. And his haircut too.

AKT: Oh, yeah.

SB: And Romain Duris, in France, I think it's strange, but he is underemployed in terms of comical roles. I think he has something very funny in him.

School principal (Romain Duris) with student Youssouf (Youssouf Diagouraga)
School principal (Romain Duris) with student Youssouf (Youssouf Diagouraga)

AKT: His timing.

SB: Yeah, and he is not afraid of transforming himself or being a ridiculous character. Because his character is a little lunatic, a little stupid. And he was not afraid at all. I think he has a great talent for the comical but is underemployed for the time being.

AKT: Overall, the main thing I picked up in your film when I thought about the connection to the Stevenson novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is that when you have transformation, there is always a surplus. It's never what you think it is. In fairy tales humans change into animals but there is always something that you cannot take into account.

SB: Especially when it's an accidental metamorphosis! It's not by a self-conscious process, that she would have said to herself, I have to transform into this. It's something that comes from her and she is like stripped.

So there is something accidental. And then what you get by accident, how far it brings you, you never know. There is always a risk in accidental metamorphosis because you have not decided for yourself.

Malik (Adda Senani) in Madame Hyde's classroom
Malik (Adda Senani) in Madame Hyde's classroom

Read what Isabelle Huppert had to say on the costumes chosen by Delphine Caposella, torturing teachers and playing Mrs Géquil and Mrs Hyde.

Read what Serge Bozon had to say on his First Encounter with Ida Lupino's Hard, Fast And Beautiful at the Quad Cinema, doubles, cooking, and the nature of transformation for Isabelle Huppert in Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)

?Mrs. Hyde (Madame Hyde)? opens in the US on April 27

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