NYFF: Isabelle Huppert as "Mrs. Hyde"
Monday, September 25, 2017 at 7:20PM
JA in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, France, Horror, Isabelle Huppert, Mrs Hyde, NYFF

by Jason Adams

Isabelle Huppert walks out and stands in front of her classroom in Serge Bozon's Mrs. Hyde and she seems to disappear into the wall - the chalk on the chalkboard has more color than she does. She's paste in sensible shoes. We first meet her being harangued publicly by her students, and in a slow painful succession of scenes she's humiliated by everyone she comes into contact with. This is no Huppert Dragon Lady, then.

And then, voila, she's struck by lightning. And given what we drag into the movie theater with us, given this film's title, we think to ourselves, "Cue the dragon!"

So the most interesting thing about Mrs. Hyde is simultaneously its most frustrating thing - it's as if Bozon took it as a challenge to deny us what we came to this movie for... Huppert's Hyde side, once unleashed, is literally a ghost - a sleepwalking fire phantom that shows even less agency than her day-time side does. (Well besides turning the occasional passerby to ash, of course.) We're almost entirely denied a dramatic swing from Mousy Nerd to Id Monster (Huppert does tear her blouse open at one point, but I think that's in her contract) and so the drama instead somehow becomes, "What does it take to be a good teacher?" It's a precarious seriousness piled up via silly string - the movie seems to lumber awkwardly, Frankenstein-ian like, at times, unsure of its next steps.

But we do find ourselves leaning forward, reading meaning into the slightest details of this woman's transformation. For a movie this purposefully goofy and broad it still pays infinitesimal attention to the smallest of turns in Huppert's performance - her Hyde seems to change on a molecular level, as if every atom shifted just five degrees, and so the reworking of her life and belief system comes deep down, somewhere we can't see. She seems to just... find herself, as if she's turned her head around a corner and gotten a better view. That's a long way away from Fredric March's fur-browed devilry of Hydes Past.

The people around Huppert seem to sense the change as if by smell, and they shift too -- some good comes out of it (her students start responding to her) and some bad comes out of it (see the aforementioned turning people into ash thing). But just this slight atomic shift turns her entire world on its axis. It's a fun-house mirror version of Huppert's later-in-life self-actualization in Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come - all you need to find purpose is a little push, a new perspective, and a six-foot-tall electromagnetic Faraday Cage. Not necessarily in that order.

Grade: B

Mrs. Hyde is screening at the New York Film Festival on September 29th and October 1st.

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (http://thefilmexperience.net/).
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