“The Five Devils,” out in limited release this weekend and on Mubi beginning on May 12, is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Ostensibly, the film is a tale of a young mother (“Blue Is the Warmest Color’s” Adèle Exarchopoulos), whose life is thrown into chaos by her sister-in-law visiting. That’s the easiest and most spoiler-free way to describe the movie, and while it might seem somewhat straightforward, French co-writer/director Léa Mysius layers on top of the movie mysteries and eccentricities and the kind of witchy queer vibe you’re always looking for in movies but rarely are able to actually enjoy. Just go in blind and you will be absolutely floored.
TheWrap spoke to Mysius (through a translator) about the origins of the story, casting an actress that could believably portray a teenage version of herself (and her adult self), what she looked to in David Lynch films and whether or not she’d like to make a Marvel movie.
TheWrap: Where did “The Five Devils” come from?
Léa Mysius: The first image that came to my mind was the image of a young woman that screamed in front of a fire. And then the second idea that came to my mind was that of a little girl that was a little weird and a little funny, who had this talent for smells. And that would be transported in her head and ended up memories of her parents. It was really the association of this idea that led to this script, which I wrote in a mosaic like way. I would write little bits and pieces here and there. And little by little it led to a full-fledged story.
The movie has an amazing, elliptical structure. Was there in the script or something that you discovered along the way?
A little bit of both. In the script, there was a puzzle -ike side but there was a sort of more straightforward, dramatic line that was in the storytelling. In the editing, we rebuilt the movie in many different ways and many different parts. One thing I wanted to point out is that I was heavily inspired by David Lynch. I analyzed the way he works and the way he writes the script and then what happens to the finished product, because I find that his movies are genius. There’s such a strong sense of mystery. And I realized that in David Lynch scripts, there’s a lot of explanations and that’s what I tried to do myself. What he does is that he puts a lot of things in the script and then he takes them away during the editing.
That’s what I did, I left a lot of explanations in my script. And then when I went to shoot, I had it all. And then when we got to the editing stage, I tried to take things out as much as possible. Little bit like you do when you play Jenga when you have all those little bits and pieces and then you have to eliminate one at a time. But you’d need to do it in a very careful way so that the whole thing doesn’t come tumbling down. That’s the kind of work that we did in the editing stage. We tried to take out anything that was an explanation, making sure that the film held together all the same.
Can you talk about casting Adèle Exarchopoulos?
I hadn’t thought of her at first, she wasn’t my first idea when I was writing the script, because the character was so far from the way she is in real life. That is, she’s a young woman who’s bubbly and full of life. She’s like a volcano that just fires. And the character of Joanne was the opposite of that – she was very cold, very closed and contained. I thought it was interesting when we talked about the idea of having her with my casting director. We said, well, maybe we can ask Adèle. I loved her, not just for “Blue is the Warmest Color” but for so many other films that she was in. And by accepting this role, she would go against her nature. And that is a constraint and when she was under that constraint, we perceived that she was actually bubbling inside and that is what is so beautiful about performance – we perceive that she is like a caged animal. It’s incredible to find an actress who is capable of stretching between acting playing the role of a 17-year-old and then the 30-year-old equally well without any issue. That’s exceptional.
When we get to the past, she is bubbly and full of life and that the contrast is so strong with what we see in the present – in the present there is that shell that she has built around her and little by little we see this shell cracking and then it explodes, it collapses. And this is all the work that she did. She did an exceptional physical work as well, she went to the gym and did all the athletic preparation. She did the swimming parts and in that cold water. She plunged into the role in the most physical and emotional way possible.
Do you know what you’re doing next? Would you ever want to do a Marvel movie or some other property?
About my next movie, I don’t know. I think it’s going to be a little bit of a surprise, but I really don’t know, I’m looking for something. And I keep changing my mind. I don’t know about the Marvel question. Of course, I would be thrilled to do something like that, something with more means, in terms of putting on a bigger show, and why not a Marvel-like movie. But if I do that, that cannot be in France. Because I think it would be a little bit ridiculous to make a Marvel movie in France. It’s never a good thing to imitate cinema that comes from other places, especially not from the United States. And I have the feeling that when in France, we want to do something that is inspired by Marvel movies, it doesn’t end well, because we’re not Americans. If I have to do something like that, well, then I would need to go to the states and work there, I think.
“The Five Devils” is in limited release now and on Mubi May 12.