Directors’ Fortnight entry “The Five Devils” centers on a young, nearly wordless girl named Vicky (first-timer Sally Dramé) who has a strange and extraordinary gift: she can reproduce any scent she finds, which she then bottles up in a collection of labeled jars. Those captured scents include those of other people, and one of them is her mother, Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos), with whom she has a parasitic relationship.
The film shares DNA with writer/director Léa Mysius’ (co-writing with Paul Guilhaume) film “Ava,” a Critics’ Week entry in 2017 about a 13-year-old girl who learns she’s losing her hearing. The filmmaker has a keen interest in the five senses (hence this film’s title) but also domestic discord, as the reappearance of Vicky’s aunt Julia (Swala Emati) throws things out of orbit in their small Alpine nestled at the feet of the mountains (which, shot by Paul Guilhaume in 35mm, hums with an otherworldly pale glow). Once Vicky captures Julia’s scent, she begins to experience traumatic memories that aren’t her own.
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IndieWire spoke to filmmaker Mysius ahead of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight premiere on Monday, and also shares an exclusive clip (below) in which Vicky explains her gift to Joanne. The film already has U.S. distribution from MUBI, which will release “The Five Devils” after the festival.
“My casting directors choose many girls, both in the street and through agencies, and Sally came to the audition through an agency because her parents had already presented her for an advertisement some months or years before,” Mysius explained of the casting, via a translator. “I filmed Sally in a group of three or four and as soon as I saw her, it was just love at first sight. She had her big eyes and her smile and she was just my Vicky.”
As Vicky doesn’t speak much throughout the film, the first-time actor had to rely on body movement and physicality to express the character beats. And Mysius had similarly worked with a first-time, nonprofessional actor on “Ava,” Noée Abita.
“I also liked in her this funny, burlesque side but she had no experience in acting; the reason I chose her was for her face, her expressions, and for what she is able to express through her body, but she didn’t know how to act. She’s very serious, and dedicated, so we started working on her voice and her body movements and training her voice,” Mysius said. “It was on set that she revealed her true ability.”
Mysius added, “I must have a real taste and inclination for actress with no experience, and I like the fact that they have no experience, because it’s like working with raw material you can shape, in a way. It’s very important for young kids to forget the presence of the camera, which is what happens after a few minutes. They tend to forget the camera is there. They don’t notice me anymore. It’s as if I’m not there, and it’s good.”
As for her film’s fantasy high concept, Mysius said she “did not want to set my film in the world of the industry of perfume-making. I wanted something more primitive, and that’s how I had the idea of the little girl trying to capture the smell into a small collection of jars, and especially the smell of the mother.”
She said that her fascination with the senses relates to “trying to fill what’s invisible, which is of course the opposite of visibility in filmmaking. But invisibility is connected with memories and also with dreams, and I liked the fact that as soon as you put a label onto that, there is a sense of something that is tangible and concrete.”
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