The Five Devils movie review & film summary (2023)


Dramé plays an eight-year-old girl named Vicky, who’s growing up in the quaint village at the foot of the Alps where her mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), was a champion gymnast and all-around queen bee in her youth; now, Joanne goes through the motions teaching water aerobics to the elderly at the local pool. Vicky is biracial—her firefighter father, Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), is originally from Senegal—which makes her the target of mean girls who bully her for her magnificent mane, pushing her around and calling her “Toilet Brush.” Still, Vicky is a self-possessed only child who enjoys her solitude, occupying her time collecting various items in jars for the memories their scents evoke. She has a preternatural sense of smell, as we see from a suspenseful early sequence in which her mother blindfolds her with a scarf and asks Vicky to find her in the forest. Dramé has an intriguing presence and a wisdom beyond her years, but there’s nothing cutesy or precocious about her performance.

The family’s simple life gets upended when Jimmy’s younger sister, Julia (Swala Emati), returns after a decade away. Her arrival also sends a ripple through the town, where she’s not just notorious but a pariah for a devastating act she committed long ago. Joanne and Julia have a bristling tension from the start: There’s some history between them, which “The Five Devils” explores in flashbacks. But even before then, Emati plays the character with the trepidation of a wounded animal. As for the man at the center of this connection, Mbengue gets frustratingly little to work with; Jimmy is withdrawn and uncommunicative and little else.

But Vicky quickly discovers she has an unexpectedly powerful connection with this relative she’d never met. One whiff of Julia’s clothes and personal items causes her to pass out and transports her to the past, where she can peek in on her future mom, dad, and aunt at crucial moments in their shared history. It’s a cool concept akin to the premise of “Back to the Future”: Who wouldn’t want to spy on their parents as teenagers? And yet, this structure has some nagging flaws in its interior logic. Only Julia can see Vicky during these interludes in the past—why doesn’t she say anything to the little girl in the present since they’re all living under the same roof? We’re left to wonder: Does Julia even know in the present that Vicky is invading her past? And when Vicky brings back items from events that occurred a decade ago, what impact does that have on everyone’s shared experiences?

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