Five Devils

In January we had the pleasure of attending the annual UniFrance event whereby we head off to Paris to interview some of the biggest filmmakers and performers in the French film industry. Two of which are Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour) & Léa Mysius (Ava), who have collaborated to bring the mystifying, compelling supernatural drama The Five Devils, which hits cinemas this weekend in the UK. The duo talk to us about blending tonalities, working with young co-stars, and their favourite smells – while Exarchopoulos tells us which films of hers she won’t be able to watch again.

I’m fascinated by the way you bring fantasy into such a real world, can you talk about the challenge in blending supernatural elements with a tale grounded in reality?

Lea Mysius: I like to recognise characters, places. The way I like to work is to have that realistic grounding, like in fantasy literature where you can have something that could be realistic, that changes into fantasy.

This is a film so enriched by its visuals, I was wondering about the location scouting, was that an enjoyable experience?

LM: My twin sister is actually in charge of sets, she found these locations. I expected something a little more realistic even, but she found this village really closed off into the mountains, so it’s really suffocating and the same time there’s something sublime, because the landscape is really amazing. There’s also the area they live where all the houses are the same, like in a fairytale somehow, so it brings the fairytale into the film.

Adéle, when you make a movie that looks this beautiful on screen, can you tell while in it that it will look so striking? Or is that something that even surprises you when you see the finished movie?

Adele Exarchopoulos: Yeah I knew what I was getting into, I knew Lea’s work, and Paul’s work, the director of photography. I knew what world this would be. I had the first premise when I read the script. When you are shooting you never know, so you have to go into a shoot with a lot of trust, but I have no idea what would come out of it, there’s always a surprise. Also when you are on a shoot you just let go into the character, and there’s a lot of work we don’t see as actors, the editing, the music, and all that, so I knew I was in for something good, but there was always a surprise to discover the finished product.

The Five Devils
Lea Mysius (left) and Adele Exarchopoulos (centre). Photo credit: Quinzaine des Cinéastes

I have loved your choices since Blue is the Warmest Colour, every character, every project feels different from the last, and so interesting. What is it for you, when you get a script that makes you think – okay, this is one for me?

AE: I don’t have a strategy, or I’ve had a strategy one or two times, thinking maybe I can work internationally, but every time it’s not worked, and on day one of a shoot I think, I should’ve listened to myself and accepted that. Regarding Lea, I’d seen Ava and loved the film, and there was a double meeting you like, artistically when I read the script, and then when I met her. I am lucky enough today to only work with people I have a lot of respect for and really admire. Sometimes you read a script and you’re not totally convinced from the script but you want to meet the person and think it might work, I have accepted scripts where I wasn’t so fond of the character but because it was such and such director, I worked for them, but ideally you want to love the director, love the script and love the character.

Sometimes no strategy is no the best strategy.

AE: That’s true.

In terms of striking up a bond with Sally, because you have to create a close, motherly bond with her – does it make it difficult when you have to say goodbye at the end of a shoot? When you work with other adults, I feel like you can message and see them again, but when you work with a child, does it make it particularly hard to say goodbye at the end?

AE: Sally has a really healthy background and healthy relationship with her parents, so there was no transfer if you like and so forth, as if she knew that it would be a good time together, and then that was it. Also because the film was postponed because of Covid, we met each other at various times, and again to promote the film. But to be honest, especially when I started my career, every time you finish a shoot, be it with children or adults, you call and say ‘we’ll meet again, we’ll have dinner next week’ or whatever, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Also because shooting a movie is so all-consuming, you have to get back to your own life and do something for your family. When I realised that either you don’t call back, or they don’t call you back and you don’t see them again, when you do see them again it’s not as intense. It was hard at the beginning but then I realised that’s the way it is, and I accept that. It’s like a short love story, you meet someone for a short time and it is intense, it can change things in you and it doesn’t mean you neglect the person by not being in touch.

When you make a romantic film, a lot of filmmakers say they need to the two lead roles together, to see if there is chemistry. Do you also have to do that when casting parents and children?

LM: All relationships are as important, and yes I needed to see all of the relations before shooting to know if it would work. With Adele and Sally the way we worked in rehearsal, was that Adele was cold and not giving too much, which is the way we explored their relationship. Also with Swala, who plays Julia, there were a lot of meetings between her and Adele because they needed to build that relationship, so I had a lot of rehearsals with a lot of actors with their different relations. Also in the shoot relationships emerged when Moustapha was fascinated by Adele, and at the same time, Daphe who plays Nadine, was fascinated by Moustapha, thinking, oh he prefers Adele. You need people to love each other to play love on screen, so it does help.

Five Devils

The character was fascinated by smell. I was reading Lea, when you were a child that was something you were fascinated by too?

LM: Yeah totally. As a child I was fascinated by smells, but less now, since the film, I’ve got over it thanks to the film. I used to, with my twin sister, make potions, with flowers, dung, whatever we found to make magical potions. After that I was into perfumes, trying to find what is in them. I’ve actually tried to make perfumes but I wasn’t very successful. The French phrase for a perfume maker is a ‘nose’ so I will never be a ‘nose’ as they say. It’s better to make cinema for me, I can create things.

What is your favourite smell?

LM: It’s horse dung, but I wouldn’t use that as a perfume. Also, polishing wax for furniture.

AE: BBQs. The smell of the BBQ makes you want to eat sausages and put on a singlet, and just relax. Also the smell of babies, especially in the neck.

Adele I was asking before about when you watch the film back and see it, and you can be surmised by the films. Do you often watch everything you star in? Are some films harder to watch than others?

AE: To be honest I just watch them once in general, at a screening or a festival, maybe a preview, so with a nice atmosphere, but I wouldn’t watch them at home on video. Some are hard to watch, I mean I wouldn’t watch Blue is the Warmest Colour again. But apart from that not really.

My final question, Lea, is that you have collaborated with some incredible filmmakers, like Claire Denis and Jacques Audiard and André Téchiné – when you work with great filmmakers are you consciously learning from them? Not literally taking note, but studying the way they work and absorbing it? Or does that happen naturally?

LM: Not in the moment, because it would interfere and I have to be focused. But it’s fascinating to be able to what gaze they have and what method they have writing, because they all have methods. But I use it afterwards. But it’s amazing to go into their heads and see how they see, somehow, and then go back into my own head. But it is something I always dreamed of as a kid.

The Five Devils is out on March 24th.