The Five Devils (2022)

An entertaining film that navigates the story using a superhuman ability to explore and lay bare the complex human emotions and our inability to confront it.

7/14/20233 min read

Adele Exarchopoulos and Swala Emati in The Five Devils
Adele Exarchopoulos and Swala Emati in The Five Devils

French, 96 minutes, 2022

Director: Lea Mysius

Cast: Adele Exarchopoulos, Sally Drame, Swala Emati, Moustapha Mbengue

Awards: Nominated for Queer Palm, Cannes Film Festival, 2022; Best Director at Dublin International Film Festival, 2023; Nominated for best visual effects, Cesar Awards, 2023

The Construct and the plot is slightly unique in the sense that the director, Lea Mysius seeks the help of paranormal to drive the story without characters having to tell the past or resorting to flashbacks without any reason.

The central character is Vicky (Sally Drame), a young girl, who has heightened sense of smell. So much so that she can smell her mother even if she is meters away. She has the ability to distinguish smells of all things and with the smell she is transported to past, revealing the incidences unknown to her. The film is driven forward and explored through the eyes of Vicky because of her empowered sense of smell.

Vicky is daughter of Joanne (Adele Exarchopoulos), a swimming instructor and Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue ), a fireman. Joanne was a gymnast earlier and goes to swim in an ice-cold lake every now and then. Her daughter Vicky is very close to her and helps her whenever needed.

The small family’s life turns upside down when Vicky’s aunt, Julia, Jimmy’s sister (Swala Emati) comes to their house to stay. Julia is an alcoholic and has a troubled past which is not yet revealed but the discomfort of three living together is palpable. Julia’s reputation precedes her and Joanne wants her to go back. Vicky, curious of this new visitor, starts getting to know Julia using her smell and the articles carried by her. She rummages through her bag and takes some of those with her. Through these articles she creates smells that take her, and the viewers of course, into past and know what had transpired few years back.

Julia, Joanne, Nadine and other girls were part of a gymnast team that used to train together. Due to an incident, which I am not going to reveal and spoil viewers’ expectation, they fall apart and Nadine gets her face and body half burned. The scars remain with her till date. Vicky also discovers that her Mom and Julia used to like each other before her mom got married to Jimmy, her father.

This is where I liked Lea and Paul Guilhaume’s script. They have used Vicky’s smelling ability intelligently to guide us through the story behind the enigmatic Julia. Paul is the director of Photography of the film and does a wonderful job of capturing the cold icy climate of the family and sensuous tones between Julia and Joanne. The cast on a whole does commendable job. Adele is superb as a devoted and caring mother relegated to duties in her now dull marriage. The kid, Sally is too good and I wonder how did she manage to perform some complex scenes with that huge wig of hers. Moustapha too is elegant and restrained as required by the script. Though I certainly would not call this a masterpiece, Lea Mysius has delivered a beautiful film which explores the human relationships and our difficulty in confronting inner desires.

About the director, Lea Mysius

Prolific director and screenplay writer, Lea was born in April of 1989, Bordeux, France. After passing out of school she studied literature at Sorbonne (University of Paris), in Paris. She graduated in screenwriting from La Femis, the film and television school of PSL Research University.

Her first creation was a short film titled ‘Cadavre Exquis’ for which she was also the screenplay writer. The short was appreciated and it won award at ‘Clermont Ferrand international Short film festival’, 2013. After this one she wrote screenplays for lot of short films.

Her first full length feature was ‘Ava’ (reviewed by this website) which she wrote and directed in 2017. In the same year, she also collaborated with director Arnaud Desplechin for his film ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ as co-writer of the screenplay. ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ was premiered at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, 2017. 'Ava' is a touching story of a 13 year old girl who is soon going to become blind due to an illness. Ava was nominated for ‘Camera d’Or’, the prize for best first feature by a director, that year at Cannes film festival. Ava also won awards at BFI London Film Festival and received nominations for ‘The Bronze Horse’ at Stockholm international film festival, 2017

‘The Five Devils’, is Lea’s second feature film which was screened in the ‘Director’s fortnight’ Section at the Cannes Film Festival, 2022. The film was generally well received at the box office and praised by critics.