Mrs. Hyde—the slick, deceptively silly new French comedy starring Isabelle Huppert—gets off to a riotous start when the hapless physics teacher Mrs. Géquil (Huppert) is struck by lightning. She survives uninjured, but not unchanged. Before the incident, Géquil was a teacher known for being both sympathetic to less privileged students—particularly a smart but socially outcast disabled boy named Malik (Adda Senani)—and completely ineffective. She was a pushover, frequently mocked and ridiculed by the rambunctious would-be rappers and spoiled sycophants populating her classes: a 35-year veteran teacher who could nonetheless barely handle these typical suburban teenagers, many of them from immigrant families.
But after the incident, theres no more Mrs. Nice Géquil—and not only because she eventually sets fire to multiple students, as well as a meddling neighbors dogs.
Mrs. Hyde, directed by Serge Bozon—who wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Axelle Ropert— is unabashedly a loose adaptation of Robert Louis Stevensons 1886 classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But the ashes of Géquils enemies notwithstanding, the movie doesnt depict the neat before and after, man vs. monster conflict youd expect. Géquil most certainly becomes a monster of a sort after the lightning strike—stalking the streets of her neighborhood at night like a sleepwalker, her entire body aglow with a gold-infused power that, should she choose, could apparently set fire to the world. And she is indeed stalked by her other self, who sometimes leaves behind menacing messages written on steamy bathroom mirrors, threatening to never leave.
But the real change, as performed by a startlingly fresh Huppert, is, ironically, much simpler: after the incident, Géquil becomes a better teacher. Authoritative and clear where before she was scattered and meek, Géquil begins to make sense to her students. Her lessons become sharper, more daring; she and her students build a Faraday cage—a metal trap designed to repel electromagnetic and electrostatic charges—and, in one hilarious scene, Géquil-as-Hyde locks one of her most bothersome students in it and tries to shock her.
Its an attitude adjustment Géquil cant help but bring home, either. “Wheres the delicate woman I married?” her doting househusband (played by José Garcia) asks one night after she appears reeking of trash. She rips open her blouse and bares her breasts at him. Thats where.
Its funny to see a contemporary French film set in an urban school that is neither realist nor miserablist, one that homes in on questions of French immigration and gender politics without lapsing into the sour territory of social-issue dramas. The realist approach might win big at Cannes, but it doesnt necessarily lead to more sophisticated art.
Bozons tone is both lighter and more deviant than the genres norm, and thats a welcome, revealing intervention. His camera comes off as curious and playful, panning this way and that to unsettle our expectations with an arrhythmic assault of visual punch lines. The students, too, are more goofy than menacing or downtrodden. A few minutes into a student rap-along (choice lyric: “School is death / street is life”), and its no wonder a fire-breathing Isabelle Huppert tries to set them ablaze.
Bozon was himself a teacher in the French suburbs some 20 years ago, and his experience bleeds insightfully into the margins of the movie—particularly enlivening the teaching scenes, which are extensive and attentive. Could we have known, before this movie, that we wanted Huppert to teach us physics?
Bozons film tiptoes along the question of what, exactly, is even happening to Géquil—theres a charged air of mystery to it all. The image of a gold, glowing woman stalking the night, burning people and dogs alive for no reason, is full of possibilities, and Bozon embraces them all. Meanwhile, Huppert, whose sharpness lends itself beautifully to ironic humor, is more than game. Mrs. Hyde is, among other things, a comedy of enlightenment—literal enlightenment, if the gold sparks coursing through Géquils body are any indication. Perhaps its greatest lesson isnt within the movie, but rather the fact of it: rather than revise a stale genre, burn it anew.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Isabelle Hupperts Awards-Season StylePreviousNext