Friday, December 07, 2018

Jekyll's New Sedative

So you'd like to see a Jekyll and Hyde movie but you wish it didn't have to be so darned exciting. Maybe you've wondered, what's with all the running around and shouting? Bah! Well, 2017's Madame Hyde just might be the Jekyll and Hyde for you. A French film, it was released this year in English speaking countries as Mrs. Hyde I guess because "Madame" sounds too foreign. An anaemic and directionless film, even the daring Isabelle Huppert in the lead roles is abnormally dull. It's streaming on Amazon Prime if you want a free sleep aid.

France is one of the countries that has already had a distinguished history of adapting Robert Louis Stevenson's original story--the best French version being Jean Renoir's Le Testament du docteur Cordelier but 1981's Docteur Jekyll et les femmes is also well worth seeing. Maybe it's the shadow cast by these films that prevented Madame Hyde's writer/director, Serge Bozon, from finding his own point of view on the tale. It kind of seems like he realised he had nothing to say halfway through production and then just went through the motions of making a movie.

Huppert plays Marie Gequil, a meek physics teacher, one of those people who rises to every troll's bait, to the delight of her unruly teenage students. She helplessly yells at them to stop harassing her and their fellow students at every provocation and seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There's an interesting moment where she overhears the students talking about Spider-Man and she mocks them for thinking you can become powerful quickly thanks to some magic potion. It seemed like this was going to be an ironic set-up for her ultimate transformation into Hyde but then the transformation ends up being an accident caused by an electrical discharge in her lab.

I thought maybe the film was going to be something like We Need to Talk about Kevin when she starts to get closer to one of the more disruptive students but this doesn't happen either. For some reason, the students stop being disruptive and become cooperative and they work on a group project together, assembling a Faraday cage. Were the kids changed by Gequil? Were they affected by her imperceptible transformation? Are we meant to be seeing some air of authority or assertiveness that wasn't there before? I don't know. If any of these things happened I missed the very subtle cues that indicated them.

Hyde's form manifests at night when Gequil gets out of bed, solemnly walks outside, and starts glowing. Instead of Mr. Hyde cavorting about town, casting off all moral inhibitions, Madame Hyde just walks around and any people or animals who get too close might be burned to a crisp, though surprisingly a lot of people don't seem to notice the glowing woman wandering about. At one point she comes upon a number of delinquents having a peculiarly well rehearsed and choreographed rap battle in a bad part of town. Is this meant to be a movie-ish musical number? I had the impression Bozon thinks this is how problem kids really act when they're on their own.

Gequil doesn't seem to have a philosophy or motivation beyond teaching her students physics. In this reality, art classes are valued above science classes for some reason and the dean is an obnoxious yuppie who dismisses physics as being too alien to the artistic temperament for the two ever to meet. Gequil never actually proves him wrong but he does start to kind of respect her. I think. There's a lot of shots of people just kind of standing around and looking at things. It's really hard to say what Bozon thought he was doing.

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