In theory, Mrs. Hyde serves as a kooky, gender-swapped French riff on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, with Isabelle Huppert in the literally transformational role. Sounds appealing, non? Who wouldn’t want to see Huppert do the 19th-century equivalent of Hulking out, obeying her id’s darkest impulses? Unfortunately, Mrs. Hyde was written and directed by Serge Bozon, a filmmaker who seems perversely committed to frustrating not just conventional audience expectations but also any hope whatsoever that one might have for narrative and/or thematic coherence. Mrs. Hyde’s famous source material provides a basic foothold that was sorely absent in such previous, little-seen Bozon films as La France (a WWI musical) and Tip Top (also starring Huppert), which helps a little. But this is still a Jekyll and Hyde story in which the most dramatic, compelling scene involves a student who’s bad at math standing at the blackboard and laboriously solving a difficult geometry problem in real time.
Yes, Marie Géquil (Huppert) is a schoolteacher rather than a doctor—and decidedly not one of those beloved inspirational types the movies usually lionize. Her class consists of students who failed to get into university proper and are seeking to learn a trade; largely unmotivated, they relentlessly mock Géquil when they’re not simply ignoring her, and she largely submits to the abuse, meek and ineffectual. That quickly changes, however, after she’s hit by a bolt of lightning during a physics experiment. Bozon opts to literalize the subsequent recurring nightly transformation, depicting “Mrs. Hyde” (who doesn’t actually adopt another name) as a glowing being of pure energy who sleepwalks around the neighborhood, inadvertently roasting everything from a neighbor’s annoying dogs to one of the bullies who serves as a bad influence on Malik (Adda Senani), her neediest pupil. Although she doesn’t remember these nocturnal excursions, they apparently boost her self-confidence during the day, making her a much better teacher.
Huppert, though always reliable, flails a bit here—she’s ostensibly playing two wildly different characters, but her somnambulistic Mrs. Hyde “persona” is really just a cheap-looking special effect, and she overcompensates by cranking Géquil’s mousiness up to a cartoonish level. (That said, she’s still less ridiculous than Romain Duris, hamming it up as the school principal; Bozon tends to encourage free-floating goofiness in his actors.) Nor is it at all clear what the film means to say about the state of French education. Bozon pointedly sets the story in a technical school where most of the kids are either immigrants or children of immigrants, and he seems vaguely concerned about their comparatively limited opportunities, but there’s no connection between any sociopolitical analysis and the protagonist’s journey of self-fulfillment, which itself fails to resonate with any real-world phenomenon. Like Bozon’s other films, Mrs. Hyde just comes across as randomly odd, throwing together a bunch of disparate, individually intriguing elements and hoping they’ll add up to something cohesive and satisfying. As usual, they don’t.