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CANNES 2022 Directors' Fortnight

Review: The Five Devils

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- CANNES 2022: Witchcraft plays a bad trick on Léa Mysius with her overly ambitious film, which puzzles audiences despite its good qualities

Review: The Five Devils
Adèle Exarchopoulos in The Five Devils

“Did you love me before I existed?" This question worries a ten-year-old girl who discovers that her parents’ past (and especially her mother’s past) does not resemble the perfect wedding photo in her mother’s office. This question is at the centre of The Five Devils [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the long-awaited feature by Léa Mysius (who rose to fame with her film Ava [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Léa Mysius
film profile
]
during Cannes Critics’ Week in 2017), screened during the Directors’ Fortnight at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

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Despite strong directing skills and spectacular mountain settings, it seems as though the director got carried away by an attractive idea on paper, but one which is very delicate to implement since the story uses fantasy to untie its realistic, sentimental and almost psychoanalytical knots. It even ponders innate witchcraft. But after all, why not? Countless times, we’ve seen the implausible take shape in cinema without losing the audience. But for this alchemy, or rather witchery, to work, the elements (water, fire, earth and air) must be completely mastered by the one who uses them or they shall turn against its creator - the director, in this case.

What is this film about exactly? Vicky (Sally Dramé), who is mixed race, has lived for ten lovely years with her mother Joanne, a water aerobics teacher (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her father Jimmy, a firefighter originally from Senegal. Vicky, who is bullied at school for her hairstyle, develops an acute sense of smell (worthy of that of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume).  Also, when her aunt Julia (Swala Emati) arrives unexpectedly (“We lost touch ten years ago; it happens to adults,” says Jimmy), much to the displeasure of her mother, Vicky senses that something is wrong. And the discovery of a small bottle of mysterious black liquid will precipitate her into her family’s past, invisible to everyone but Julia. Time travels reveal immense secrets…

Training at the lake for a maximum of 20 minutes in freezing water at 7°C because beyond that, we suffer from hypothermia and our heart stops, a devastating fire and a disfigured face, the mad passionate love between two women, a poisonous rumour in a small provincial town: The Five Devils pieces together the puzzle of the past repeating itself in the present, which in turn shapes the past. This prefabricated, sprawling loop does not convince and fails to give a homogeneous solution, even if almost all of its ingredients (in particular the female performances and Paul Guilhaume’s cinematography) taken separately are very well made. But the witchcraft of mixing genres is an art that requires caution, and the daring Léa Mysius will undoubtedly draw lessons for the future because the talent is there, but she has to channel the source.

Produced by Trois Brigands Productions and F comme Film, The Five Devils is distributed by Wild Bunch International.

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(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)

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