The Five Devils is one of the most unorthodox and intoxicating coming-of-age films.
Published on May 31, 2023
Rating 4 /5
The Five Devils is a unique generational drama for being framed by the next generation's perspective. In the same way that a film like EO framed humanity through a donkey's eyes, this film looks at the sordid affairs of adults through the eyes of a child. Without that element, this would still be a powerful drama of a love triangle that boiled and bubbled over decades. But when laced with the innocence of youth and the supernatural elements of digging into the past, this picture manages to say so much more for the variety in observation.
The little girl, Vicky Soler (Sally Dramé), takes charge of this story most. She is staged as a girl silently loyal to her bitter mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her silently distant father, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue). Vicky can experience the memories of others through smells that she collects by recognizing the aroma. She becomes intrigued to use this power when Jimmy’s sister, Julia (Swala Emati), enters the picture and causes a rift between Joanna and Jimmy. What horrible history did they have that led to the feud they currently harbor? It’s a troubling story that Joanne dares not reveal, leading to Vicky learning of her own accord.
What Vicky discovers is a sordid affair of how her mother was originally a lesbian who was deeply in love with Julia. So why didn’t their relationship go further? Despite her mother's misgivings and her classmates' bullying, Vicky probes deeper to find out the tragic event that led to their unfortunate break-up. Even worse, Vicky’s delving into the past might have been critical to her mother’s reluctant marriage to Jimmy. Thus, Vicky is posed with a difficult question: Was she a burden for her mother, that robbed her of true happiness?
This film walks a surprisingly bold line between supernatural time travel and romantic drama of regret and longing. It’s easy to feel just as much pity for Joanne in her desire to make a passionate relationship work as it is for Vicky feeling like a third wheel in the affairs of adults. In lesser hands, this film could have come off as anti-LGBTQA in how it stages a child realizing their birth was regrettable for a woman who once considered herself a lesbian. Thankfully, it says more about adults' dishonesty and how embracing that honesty can better serve the next generation, especially with the film's highly poignant ending.
There’s also a beautiful intensity to it all. Everything from Vicky’s weird formulas for experiencing memories to the probing cynicism of Joanne’s father makes for a volatile mixture of romantic drama. There’s also a wee bit of commentary on how Julia’s downward spiral into arson and having mental issues says something about a society unwilling to listen to or comprehend someone’s perspective. There might also be a racial component worth exploring in that scenario, but there’s already so much going on in this film that it’s probably for the best the film never probes that deep.
The Five Devils is one of the most unorthodox and intoxicating coming-of-age films. It treats its young hero with great maturity in how she learns from the past while giving her a level of empathy that feels crucial for dealing with the issues at hand. It is weird yet grounded, as well as sincere yet uncompromising. For a generation that feels as though they’re inheriting the burdens of the past, this is a profoundly moving film that will speak volumes for those just starting to find comfort in being comfortable with themselves.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.