The Five Devils
by Hope Madden
The magical realism of Léa Mysius’s sophomore feature takes a minute to suss out. Things feel straightforward enough, at least for a time. Although, how can a person miss the magic in Sally Dramé’s little face?
Dramé plays Vicky, and she plays her magnificently. Vicky’s an odd duck, disliked intensely at school but happy as can be accompanying her mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) to the pool where Joanne is an instructor and lifeguard.
But all is not right at home between Vicky’s parents, and when her dad’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) comes to stay, things really come undone.
Mysius expertly balances family drama with fantastical elements to achieve an emotional honesty about a complex topic. The drama itself borders on melodrama, with backstabbing, coupling and uncoupling, and sexual relations of an almost Greek tragedy sort. Understated performances from the entire cast keep it from devolving into soap opera, but Mysius has something better than that in store.
The time travel magic of the film, limited as it is to the impish Vicky, allows for a childlike innocence, even when the implications of that magic become very dark. Essentially, by straddling soap opera antics and fantasy elements, Mysius can ask more questions about family entanglements than she answers. But the questions she asks are so rarely tackled that leaving them hanging does not feel unsatisfying.
Again, so much of the success of the film sits with the emotionally honest performances. Exarchopoulos once again delivers raw vulnerability that never feels staged. In fact, despite its sometimes lurid narrative meanderings, there is nothing showy about The Five Devils.
This is an unusual film, generous with its characters even as it looks at the selfishness of love, the neediness within family, and the strange battles we fight.