Houston Cinema Arts Festival: ‘The Five Devils’ Review
Regret is a hell of a drug. In The Five Devils, the new film from Léa Mysius (Ava), it’s a drug that Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) cannot shake. Despite having a loving husband, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), and a daughter, Vicky (Sally Dramé), the specter of the past looms large. That specter becomes impossible to ignore once Jimmy’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) returns to their lives. This forces Joanne to reconcile some painful memories and feelings. Joanne’s struggle may be the central narrative, but it is not the story here. Instead, The Five Devils anchors itself in the experiences of Vicky, who experiences the strange dynamic between her aunt and parents by traveling back in time using specially bottled smells. Yes, your eyes are seeing that correctly.
The Five Devils immediately sets itself apart from other films with similar subject matter by how it tells its story. Mysius and Paul Guilhaume wrap a supernatural coming-of-age story around Vicky. Going back in time, she experiences that very romance, while also realizing she caused aspects of them herself. To fully take in The Five Devils, you have to be a little okay with not knowing what type of story you’re watching.
All at once, The Five Devils is a romance, a drama, a thriller, a time-travel, a coming-of-age, and even a horror. What stops all these ingredients from becoming incomprehensible muck is that Mysius tells it with a fresh perspective. Exarchopoulos and Emati have a magnetic chemistry that’s quite different than what we normally see. They catastrophically draw themselves to one another while also having a rift between them due to some unspecified incident. Supplemented by that is the fear that engaging in their true feelings will lead to the dissolution of family bonds. Yet their passion is electric, spilling out of the memories Vicky views.
Vicky’s journey adds another layer of complication. Dramé can play the “wise beyond her years” type while also showing indignant anger at her aunt for “ruining” her family. Nevertheless, she begins to see how the love that her mother and aunt shared, and learns that adults are imperfect. It’s an extremely unique coming-of-age perspective that gets more nuance thanks to Jimmy’s growing understanding of what’s going on. A steady tone, bolstered by Paul Gillhaume’s cinematography, molds itself around the emotions felt by the characters. A moment where Julia assists a drunk Joanne singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is more euphoric than any action scene could hope for. It’s such a naked display of what is truly inside the characters.
Léa Mysius’ The Five Devils is a statement on being true to oneself, and how that can bring about great change. That great change might be scary, and could feel like oblivion. However, it’s absolutely necessary to live a meaningful, honest life. Beneath all of its various genre-bending trappings, The Five Devils serves as a chrysalis for characters stuck in a place of false stasis, allowing them to spring forward and live their truth. Once their true selves are revealed, they’re as radiant as any butterfly. – James Preston Poole
The Five Devils has an unspecified theatrical release date and is also due to be released on MUBI.