Léa Mysius’ visually stunning sophomore film The Five Devil confidently plays by its own unique rules. Similar to a chef pulling various spices off the rack and sprinkling them into a simmering pot on the stove, the film feels like a series of random ingredients at first glance. However, once one gets a taste of the complete dish, its rich flavours linger in the mind.
A collage of various genres, the film is many things all at once. It is a time travel story, a family drama, a lesbian love story, a horror flick, an examination of memory, and a commentary on racial and sexual prejudice. While this may sound like a strange compilation of competing ideas, Mysius meticulously puts each intricately constructed piece of her complex puzzle together in fascinating ways. The result is a wildly original work that is invigorating and at times perplexing.
The central narrative revolves around eight-year-old Vicky Soler (Sally Dramé) who has an exquisite sense of smell. A collector of scents in jars, her favourite aroma being the smell of her water aerobics instructor mother Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), she can recreate any odor by blending together specific ingredients. Frequently bullied at school for her strange hobby, and the fact that she is the only Black girl in her predominantly white school, no one knows that her unique gift of smell is a vessel that temporarily transports her back in time.
When her firefighter father Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue) announces that his estrange sister Julia (Swala Emati) is coming to spend time with the family, Vicky notices the tension it causes between her parents. A recovering alcoholic with mental health issues, Julia’s presence not only puts Joanne on edge, but the whole town as well. Eager to understand what happened between her parents and her aunt to cause such unease, Vicky uses her gift to investigate and dig up the secret of a past that everyone seems to want to keep buried.
Presenting a unique exploration into the link between smell and memory, Mysius’ film effortlessly glides back and forth through various genres. Much like the kaleidoscope shades that Vicky wears while observing her mother get drunk at a local bar on karaoke night, this disorienting approach allows the film to create a dreamlike allure with multiple possible outcomes. Even as the blurry memories of the past become crystal clear, the film still leaves audiences with plenty of questions that can only be answered with multiple viewings.
While there are some strands, take the arc involving Joanne’s friend and co-worker Nadine (Daphne Patakia) for example, are not fully realized, there is never a dull moment in the film. Mysius expertly builds a film that manages to be strange, deeply romantic, and chilling with equal measure. Stylish and beautifully haunting, The Five Devils is an engaging film that one does not easily forget.
The Five Devils streams exclusively on MUBI for Canadian audiences starting May 12th.
I hope to check this out as it’s coming to MUBI here in the U.S. this month as I might watch it for my Cannes marathon this month.