Past Lives, Present Days: Our Review of ‘The Five Devils’

Posted in Movies, Mubi, Theatrical, What's Streaming? by - March 24, 2023
Past Lives, Present Days: Our Review of ‘The Five Devils’

The past has a way to come back and haunt us…

Over at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now, The Five Devils is a sexy and psychological ride that is hard to look away from.

Vicky (Sally Dramé), a strange and solitary little girl, has a magical gift: she can reproduce any scent she likes, and collects them in a series of carefully labelled jars. She has secretly captured the scent of Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), her mother for whom she nurtures a wild, excessive love. When her father’s sister Julia (Swala Emati) bursts into their life, Vicky reproduces her smell and is transported into dark and archaic memories which lead her to uncover the secrets of her village, her family and her own existence.

While this is a story that plays with a lot of ideas in the abstract and the opaqueness of memory and emotions, it’s the passion of the moments of The Five Devils that ultimately hook you in and get you engaged with what’s trying to say.

With filmmaker and co-writer Léa Mysius shooting this in 35mm, we get a cinematic experience that just feels inherently more tactile as we see that delicate precipice between childhood and adulthood and the unique relationships and bonds that get held on to throughout.

And when you combine such a key element of the story revolving around smell, one of the few senses that can’t be rewarded in a movie, it allows the imagination to spread its wings and Mysius gives us something incredibly unique.

By using the genre motifs to look at the issues around memory and our relationships with family and past traumas this all plays much more emotionally rather than logically, if you are looking for a straight forward, nuts and bolts kind of resolution to this narrative you are probably in the wrong place.  That being said it all comes through thanks to some excellent and truly compelling leading performances.

Adèle Exarchopoulos is the kind of actress who just commands the frame and here as Joanne we see not only a tortured soul in the moment but also the emotion of the past before it even unfurls in front of us.  Sally Dramé is an unequivocal revelation and works amazingly well opposite Exarchopoulos.  The mother/daughter essence they have is dynamic and so essential to making this story work as well as it does.

Granted, The Five Devils will never be the kind of movie that you can just wrap up into a bow but there’s something undeniable here in this film.  The way it looks at the wreckage of interpersonal relationships we have along the way in our lives, be they with family or with friends and how it can truly form who we are as people has a revelatory power that can sneak up on you.

Léa Mysius isn’t the kind of filmmaker that’s going to answer a question for you; rather she’s the one who’s going to make you appreciate the journey along with the hour long discussion you’ll want to have about it all when the credits roll.

  • Release Date: 3/24/2023
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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