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MOVIES: The Five Devils - Review

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The Five Devils is not a time travel story. Despite all intents and purposes; it’s a ghost story – to label it as a time travel story would be reductive in what it sets out to achieve. It’s a retelling of past events through the lens of the present – the daughter of Adèle Exarchopoulos’s Joanne explores the traumatic events of her family’s past through mysterious substances that give her the ability to see – if not to influence directly, past traumas that spiral into the present day when the past comes back to haunt them.

What follows is a turbulent, manic collection of ideas: a queer love quartet, a psychosexually charged narrative and a child becoming more aware of her own abilities and powers. It’s a magical realist coming of age story mired down the middle by the narrative around it – The Five Devils finds a way to take float in a convoluted but inspired way that pulls all its punches. The story beat lands – there’s a karaoke moment halfway through the film that pushed it from good to great in my book – and it really sets out what it wants to accomplish.

The main narrative purely revolves around Joanne and her family, to the point where like the character herself, Swala Emati doesn’t quite get the chance to flesh Julia’s story out as much as I would’ve liked; but it’s a turbulent performance and a charged turning point for the film when she’s brought back into Joanne’s life. The interesting portrayal of rural French small town politics lends to a Fire Walk With Me type feel – although this feels more straight lined than your average David Lynch movie. Léa Mysius makes the most out of Exarchopoulos, one of the best actors currently working – you only need to look at her filmography but especially last year’s brilliant Zero Fucks Given, to tell just how good she is at getting to grips to the characters – it’s interesting to see how the narrative can be dissected here.

Past happens at the same time of the present, it’s a story of ghosts after all – and all the better for that. With so *much* going on it can be difficult to put everything together at first, but when The Five Devils gets going, it really does a fantastic job at convincing you of its world and the characters that inhabit it – a tragedy at the core of a family drama is brought back to the surface in a messy way without any easy answers.

Location is key here and I love the decision to shoot on 35mm. It really makes the atmosphere especially in the time travel sequences feel all the more real, and the community feels lived in and believable for a small-town. The Five Devils may struggle with coherence but it’s the ambition that gives it a crucial edge that sets it apart.

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