Léa Mysius’s accomplished second feature is the time-travelling, olfactory-driven LGBTQ romance and family melodrama you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. Especially with added superpowers.
A sustained knack for surprise defines the script, written by the director and her cinematographer, Paul Guilhaume. Shot in gorgeous 35mm against the Alpine region of the title, The Five Devils concerns Vicky (newcomer Sally Dramé), a young girl with a heightened sense of smell. At school she’s bullied for her magnificent afro and odd habits. At home she lives happily with her swimming-instructor mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), mixing witchy, smelly concoctions in jars inspired by the people in her life.
There’s a sense that Vicky’s firefighter dad (Moustapha Mbengue) is already an absent or preoccupied father when he brings home his troubled sister, Julia (Swala Emati). This new, apparently unstable houseguest is plagued by visions of a girl with the ability to appear and disappear. She is also responsible for a tragedy some years before. That event forms a nexus that continues to affect various lives in various ways.
Echoing the young protagonist’s gaze, Guilhaume’s camera probes deep watery blues where Exarchopoulos swims and fiery reds around her partner’s workplace, as if the cinematographer were working from a daydreaming child’s paint set. The mountains and trees add a fairytale gloss to a brew that’s already as mysterious and potent as anything found in Vicky’s jars.
The big, bold plot invited comparisons with Titane when the film premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes last year. It’s not car-sex, head-plate bonkers, but, in common with Julia Ducournau’s film, it maintains a heightened, delirious dialogue with genre cinema.
The Five Devils requires two remarkable performances from Dramé and Blue Is the Warmest Colour’s Exarchopoulos to anchor the film-maker’s swirling imagination.