Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Mubi.

French director Léa Mysius’ “The Five Devils” is enigmatic, at times compelling, but ultimately puzzling and disappointing. The story focuses on eight-year-old Vicky who possesses a hypersensitive sense of smell and an ability to mix powerful potions leaving individuals unconscious. She benefits from her ability to travel back in time where she learns unpleasant secrets of violent events.  

Those passion-fueled conflicts involve Vicky’s swimming coach mother Joanne, alienated fireman husband Jimmy from Senegal, and Jimmy’s younger sister Julia, back after ten years of court directed psychiatric treatment. She possesses some supernatural powers of her own that intersect with Vicky’s magical time jumps. Meantime, Joanne swims for exactly twenty minutes in an icy lake, timed by Vicky. It’s immediately clear that this location will figure in future dire events, so predictable is the setup.

Another young woman, Nadine, also contributes significant moments, but the jigsaw puzzle is a disjointed mixture of disparate pieces. Furthermore, banal revelations appear too late and too haphazardly, resulting in an inconsequential impact. On the positive side, the tone remains consistent, and the cinematography conveys strong light versus dark environments.

Sally Dramé as Vicky Soler has a strong presence, reminiscent of Quvenzhané Wallis/Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” But her classmates’ ridicule of her Afro hair style goes nowhere and feels, sadly, gratuitous. Similarly, the sexual situations feel manufactured and manipulative rather than earned, integral, and poignant. The title, “The Five Devils,” is elusive as the narrative’s drama, reportedly coming from the five mountain peaks looming over the town. It also suggests a comment on the five central characters that, in the final analysis, are reconsidered in what appears to be a meaningful flashback. It didn’t work for me. In French with English subtitles, “The Five Devils” screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium one night only, Thursday, August 24, at 7:30 that evening. For more information, you may visit the film series website.

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