An ominous bit of music accompanies the wedding photo of Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue) that sits behind her things at the local swimming pool where she teaches in “The Five Devils,” though the picture would be unnerving without it as the bride in it comes across as unnaturally cheery. Joanne would seem fine with leading an aquatics for seniors class, but without her saying a word, you see what she’d rather be doing, dipping into a local lake where she has her young daughter Vicky (Sally Dramé) timing her swims, presumably practicing for a competition only she knows about.
It’s hardly the only desire she’s had to keep to herself in Lea Mysius’ devious second outing as a director, following co-writing gigs with Jacques Audiard (“Paris, 13th District”) and Arnaud Desplechin (“Ismael’s Ghost”). Her vision is just as singular as she asks what becomes of a broken heart, putting the onus on Vicky to pick up the pieces and make sense of her parents’ unhappy marriage. This involves making scents, when Vicky is blessed with a supernatural sense of smell that Mysius posits doesn’t just let her sniff out any BS her parents put on, but additionally the ability to travel back through time to see Joanne and Jimmy before she was born based on their aroma, and the notion that one element could paint an entire picture for her is somewhat ironic when no one is feeling seen for they actually are in full in “The Five Devils,” a fact that is brought to a boil with the arrival of Julia (Swala Emati), Jimmy’s younger sister, with whom Joanne once was on the same gymnastics squad and now wants nothing to do with.
Although it takes all of Vicky’s energy to understand the break in that relationship and all the others around her, a mental expenditure that leaves her knocked out after she puts together the smells to take her back in time, Mysius eases one into the most intriguing transtemporal ventures since Tony Scott imagined a car chase taking place in two separate planes for “Deja Vu,” often holding back on making a distinction between what’s past and present for the girl as she bears witness to more carefree days for the adults around her, coming to realize the compromises they’ve made between then and now. Even if Vicky grows more disillusioned as she gets closer to the truth of what went down between them, her increasing consciousness of the adult world puts her in league with Joanne, who’d rather not be there either and yearns for when she made decisions with her heart rather than her head.
There’s an alluring visual panache to accompany the melodramatic flourishes inherent in the doomed love triangle that Vicky unravels, but Mysius maintains an organic feel throughout that transmits the supernatural as radiant sensitivity, attuned to a combustible mix of emotions that her characters are holding in and are always on the verge of blowing up. Exarchopoulos, who clings onto an agreeably youthful sneer throughout, isn’t only able to credibly play ages 17 through 30 as her onscreen daughter checks in at pivotal moments, but proves, as she has since the start of her career in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” to have a rare ability to reflect when love has moved away from her, making an anticipation of its return especially riveting. In a film that’s a celebration of what’s unique to a person and the ecstasy of finding alignment with someone else, synchronicity both within the story of “The Five Devils” and those making it becomes particularly rapturous.
“The Five Devils” will screen again at Directors Fortnight on May 23rd at 8:30 pm at the Theatre Croisette, May 24th at the Cinema La Licorne at 2 pm, the Cinema Alexandre III at 4:30 pm and Cinema Les Arcades/Salle 1 at 10:45 pm. It will eventually be released by MUBI.