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"Turning Doctor Jekyll into a woman and a teacher in a deprived city suburb"

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Serge Bozon • Director

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- LOCARNO 2017: An interview with French actor and director Serge Bozon, to discuss the 5th film he has directed, Mrs. Hyde, in competition at Locarno and starring Isabelle Huppert

Serge Bozon • Director
(© Locarno Festival / Samuel Golay)

Cineuropa met the actor and director Serge Bozon at the Locarno Festival to discuss the fifth film he has directed, Mrs. Hyde [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Serge Bozon
film profile
]
, where Stevenson’s hero is a female physics teacher at a technical college, who’s a bit awkward, a bit uptight, and completely out of touch with reality despite the subject she teaches, played brilliantly by an exquisite Isabelle Huppert. The film comes out in France in March 2018. It has been sold to a number of other countries, notably Portugal, Spain, Russia and Japan. 

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Is your film a very liberal adaptation of Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
Serge Bozon: I transposed the story to the modern-day outskirts of Paris, where the main character is a woman and an unpopular teacher in a vocational college. The film starts out as a social comedy and gradually transforms into a tragedy. My hope is that, by the end, the audience will feel like crying. So we go from comedy in the first section, to the supernatural in the second, and after this the mood becomes increasingly sombre… despairing even.

And by setting the film in a college, the perfect source of inspiration for a whole host of characters, you have yet again succeeded in creating characters who are hilarious, but who also have their vulnerabilities.
Alongside the character of Mrs. Jekyll, played by Isabelle Huppert, Romain Duris and I wanted to portray a head teacher who was comical, first and foremost. But at the end of the film, even he begins to reveal his doubts and anxieties, notably over the way in which he carries out his work. The husband, played by José Garcia, is a kind, gentle man. But he doesn’t work, he’s a house husband. It’s all very well him being sensitive and highly protective of his wife, but he’s still incapable of understanding the challenges that are part and parcel of his wife’s role as a teacher. 

How was the writing process broken down in terms of the plot, the exquisite dialogue…?
It was my co-screenwriter Axelle Ropert (who has written all of my films and who I joined at the writing table only very recently for my previous film, Tip Top [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Serge Bozon
festival scope
film profile
]
) who had the idea of adapting and transposing Stevenson’s book in this way, and of creating this particular story. I wrote certain sections and spent some time on the dialogue, but in terms of plot development, she did the lion’s share of the work.

The film moves at a furious pace, especially at the beginning. The first real break from this, coincides with the geometry lesson that Mrs. Jekyll gives to the young Malik.  Why was it important for you to take your time with this scene?
When we’re making films about school and the difficulty of explaining complicated ideas to students, like the laws of physics – as this is the subject that Isabelle Huppert’s character teaches – I think it’s good to try, at least once in the course of the film, to solve and to fully explain a scientific problem in its entirely.  So that was what I tried to do, otherwise I would have felt like I was betraying my subject. That’s how I came to include this long pedagogical scene on a geometry problem. It’s a very simple problem concerning a straight line and two dots (it’s what we teach to 13 year old students in France), you don’t need to be an expert in maths to understand how it’s solved. You don’t even need to know how to count. Logical reasoning is all that is needed. This is the message that Mrs. Jekyll tries to convey: all her students know how to write and speak; what they don’t know is how to put forward arguments, perform demonstrations, or successfully insert “therefore”, or any other logical link, between two sentences. What our teacher tries to explain in this scene is deductive reasoning: what is deductive reasoning? What is a real demonstration?

(Translated from French by Michelle Mathery)

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