Dir/Writer: Serge Bozon | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, José Garcia, Romain Duris | France | Drama | 95′
Isabelle Huppert joins Serge Bozon for their second quirky arthouse collaboration in this French female take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In a gesture to French literature, the film is set in Lyon’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud’ Secondary School where Huppert plays Marie Géguil an unpopular physics teacher unable to inspire or control her rowdy bunch of mixed race pupils.
Serge Bozon has his admirers but his films are an acquired taste outside France and MADAME HYDE is no exception. It shares the same offbeat brand of humour as TIP TOP (2013) which won a special mention at Cannes that year. He also works as a writer and had a small part in Mathieu’s Amalric’s stylish thriller The Blue Room. MADAME HYDE works on two levels: as a surreal fantasy thriller, and an inspirational drama about encouraging kids to rise above their difficulties and find their vocational “beacon” in life, as Huppert Géquil does here. As such this is a worthwhile but often awkward piece of filmmaking that eventually makes it through largely due to Huppert’s game portrayal as the soon to be transformed Mrs Hyde (Géquil/Jekyll) and Romain Duris’ tourette-like comedy turn as the Head Master. There is also support from Jose Garcia as Madame’s rather dense but endearing ‘house husband’ and Malik, a tricky pupil.
And while Madame G starts off as a cowed and fearful figure she herself eventually finds her own mojo’when she becomes a ‘flaming beacon’ after lightening strikes her portacabin laboratory and transforms her into a conduit for change, for everyone concerned. She develops the power of electrical ignition simply through her touch, as the charge sparks visibly through her veins. Although these powers are not all good: the next door neighbours pair of alsatians sadly perish as does a disruptive truant. But for the most part this eerie change of life is for the better – and is not due to the menopause, as her obsequious husband suggests.
Apart from this rather sensational visual trick, Madame’s confidence soars enabling her to engage with her pupils in a special project of building a Faraday cage. She also bonds with a difficult disable pupil Malik (Adda Senani) helping him to develop his interest in physics.
On paper Madame Hyde has some really inventive and worthwhile ideas but the actual film never flows smoothly and there are too many longueurs where the action feel laboured and awkward although Huppert is particularly convincing in her role. Malik also creates an authentic portrait of a young guy struggling to find his feet in life, in more ways than one. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017