Mrs Hyde


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Mrs Hyde
"Although we alight at many points of interest throughout the journey, we never stop long enough anywhere to explore."

Mrs Hyde, a French working of the Jekyll And Hyde story brought to screen by esoteric director Serge Bozon, is many things. Challenging, engaging, thoughtful. Ultimately, though, the overriding sensation produced was one of frustration. Because although we alight at many points of interest throughout the journey, we never stop long enough anywhere to explore.

In outline, the story remains faithful to its origins. Mme Géquil (Isabelle Huppert) - perhaps the closest that French orthography gets to the English 'Jekyll' - is a well-intentioned teacher condemned to instruct a bunch of unruly, unwilling pupils who make up the technical class of a less-than-salubrious suburban school. (For English viewers: the tech class comprises those pupils considered incapable of dealing with theory, and therefore a class whose life chances are already directed towards the manual and blue collar).

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It's a soul-destroying endeavour. Her pupils hate her and her determination to lift them out of the academic waste-bin to which they have been consigned is met with ridicule and abuse.

She is not helped by key players in her life drama who, in their different ways, act to foil and frustrate her efforts.

The school principal (Romain Duris) who would rather be somewhere else entirely; her husband Pierre (José Garcia) who may believe he loves her but seems incapable of doing so without stifling the life out of her. Then there are the two irritating mean girls (Roxane Arnal and Angèle Metzger) who go out of their way to make life difficult for her.

And then there's Malik (Adda Senani) an intelligent lad with a major chip on his shoulder, in large part due to a physical impairment that means he must rely on a complex walking frame in order to get about.

So far, so ordinary. The stage is set for a grand school redemption narrative: failing teacher befriends failing pupil, saves pupil, saves themselves.

Except for one thing, and that is Mme G's untimely rendez-vous with a lightning bolt. After, things change. Slowly at first, as Géquil regains her appetite for life – and food in general – and a new more confident teacher steps forth to take Malik under her wing and put class, husband and principal firmly in their places.

But there is side-effect, in the form of a fiery alter ego, Mme Hyde, who stalks the streets at night incinerating those who get in her way.

That skews the film, mixing up trad horror dynamic with school drama and – as all those associated with the film are keen to tell us – comedy.

Let's pick through those in order. The horror aspect was the least convincing. It was never clear quite why Mme Hyde was who she was or did what she did: - whether indeed she was true alter ego, since a key theme to emerge was “I am always in you”.

Which raises the question of what it is that Mme Hyde represents. Interviewed for Film Comment, Serge Bozon explained: “Your schooling might be the most important thing in life, more important than your parents and family even. What makes you what you are when you are growing up is what you’ve learned. And it’s in school where you learn things. Not with your family.”

A very obvious theme running all the way through this film is the way in which education is seen as a “way out” for those at the bottom of the social heap and is rejected by them as dangerous. More ambivalent is Mme Hyde's take on this, which seems to be against the side of the angels. For while she helps transform Mme G into a better teacher, she also appears to be against social betterment. She provides the tools – and then defaces the result.

Last up is the question of comedy. The film provides multiple moments of sharp social observation which are witty, humorous but....guffaw-inducing, as some critics suggest? If it is, I missed that aspect entirely.

The best one can say is that it uses gentle humour to deliver social commentary. Not belly laughs. There is also a rhythm and atmosphere to it that mark it out as very not-Hollywood. Though, as Bozon is at pains to insist, not art house either. It celebrates the exploration of complex ideas of maths and science and for the most part it appears to communicate them well (but perhaps it would be fairer to ask a non-scientist whether that worked for them).

And Isabelle Huppert is wonderful throughout, dominating the film in her own quiet, unassuming way.

A rich film, a thought-provoking film. Still, I ended the film puzzled, not altogether sure where we had arrived or why.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2018
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Mrs Hyde packshot
After a teacher is struck by lightning, she discovers a powerful and dangerous alter ego.

Director: Serge Bozon

Writer: Serge Bozon

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Romain Duris, Patricia Barzyk, José Garcia, Charlotte Véry

Year: 2017

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France

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