cinema · GFF23

Film review: The Five Devils

Collaborating with her partner and cinematographer Paul Guilhaume on the script, this is the second feature from French director Léa Mysius. Set in a picturesque alpine village, The Five Devils (Les cinq diables) centres around swimming instructor Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who is married to fireman Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), though they appear to be stuck in a rut. Their young daughter Vicky (Sally Dramé) has an unusually strong sense of smell, and secretly recreates scents in little jars that she stores in her bedroom. Tensions run high in the community when Jimmy’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) moves in with the family after being released from prison, and Vicky’s strange gift leads her to a shocking revelation.

 With drama, romance, and sci-fi elements at play, the complex narrative spins a lot of plates but Mysius strikes a tonal balance that satisfies its exploration of each genre. There are even some effective horror-infused scenes as Vicky’s ability takes the tale into some dark places. The film manages to be both plot-driven and character-driven, and its aesthetic swings between icy blue sequences by the lake and moments of fiery conflict are beautifully illustrated by Guilhaume’s lens. Putting the fantasy aside, the writing of Joanne’s character as the protagonist is excellent. She has an important relationship with everyone else in the story, from her protective father to her traumatised work colleague, and there’s a richness to her personality that makes every exchange engaging.

 At the core of almost every scene, Adèle Exarchopoulos is a compelling presence throughout. She portrays Joanne with a casual aloofness, protecting herself behind a laidback façade. When this guard slips and her true feelings get out, it’s electric to experience. There’s a great use of Bonnie Tyler’s pop banger Total Eclipse of the Heart, which is really well written into the backstory, culminating in an emotionally-charged karaoke rendition alongside Emati’s Julia. Her bond with Dramé is also lovely to watch; there’s an undeniable love between the mother and daughter but their understanding of one another is fractured. In a minor but integral supporting role, Daphne Patakia is superb. Her physical and mental scars are key to the plot, and her scenes are very impactful.

 Taking on such multifaceted storytelling can often be a risk in filmmaking, but this is an accomplished piece of work. Introducing a fantastic child actor in Sally Dramé to the big screen and blending its genres together in a cauldron of style and substance, The Five Devils marks a terrific sophomore effort from Léa Mysius.


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