Monday, 5 June 2023

Mubi Monday: The Five Devils (2022)

The second feature from director Léa Mysius, this is a big step up from her last work (Ava), although there's definitely connective tissue between the two works. Both films are about a child dealing with memories, and, to a certain degree, figuring out different ways to make things more ideal within their own environment.

Sally Dramé plays Vicky, a young girl who has a knack for identifying different scents. She tries to bottle different favourites, including scents belonging to her mother (Joanne, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos). Joanne isn't feeling as strongly connected as she once was to her partner/Vicky's father, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), and things become more strained when Jimmy's sister, Julia (Swala Emati) comes to stay at their home after time spent in prison. While trying to figure out why things are changing around her, Vicky keeps working on collecting just the right scents, some powerful enough to help her visit and view the past, where she learns a lot more about the complicated relationship between Joanne, Julia, and Jimmy.

Once again working in collaboration with writer Paul Guilhaume, Mysius helps herself enormously this time around by being willing to take things even further, in cinematic terms, and by putting together an even more memorable cast. I should say now, however, that I have a slight bias towards Exarchopoulos, and consider her to be one of the absolute best actresses of her generation. 

Alongside Exarchopoulos (who is used brilliantly here, and I don't know if you're aware, but . . . . she's one of the absolute best actresses of her generation) you have others who try to hold their own beside her. Some work better than others, and the standout is young Dramé, managing to effectively portray a child with a special power who slides from typically childish play mode into a more determined and focused practitioner of her craft, intrigued by what she glimpses and seeking a way to dig even deeper towards hidden truths that may or may not be best left in the past. Emati does well, Mbengue less so (although he has the more thankless role), and there are good supporting turns from Patrick Bouchitey and Daphne Patakia, both embodying very different people that Joanne might want to get away from.

A deft blend of light and dark, magical realism crashing against depressing realism as a child watches an adult who is starting to seriously regret some of the roads that life has taken her down, The Five Devils is a well-realised study of a certain nexus point between parent and child. It looks at that strange time when any child starts to realise that their parents didn’t just arrive on the planet as fully-formed full-time caregivers, and the use of scent as a trigger/portal makes sense, because we all have those specific smells that can transport us back to a specific time and place. A brand of perfume, a mix of seawater and candy floss, Red Bull and vodka, etc, etc. All of those things, and many more, can cause a strong reaction in your memory muscles, and anyone reading this will have a number of triggers that will take them right back to a specific childhood treat or tribulation. 

While there are moments that I wish were handled a bit better here, particularly the last few scenes, this easily does well enough to deserve your attention. And it’s a substantial next step in what is becoming a very interesting filmography from Léa Mysius.


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