Les Diables (2002) by Christophe Ruggia

The story of a young brother and sister who are orphans since birth. They go from living on the street to living in youth detention centres from which they often escape. He is rugged and rough, street savvy and instinctively violent. She is autistic, non-verbal, and prone to catatonic fits. The premise recalls a mutant version of the French amour-fou films, mixed with the orphan child films, such as Carax’s Lovers On The Bridge, Gaspar’s Enter The Void, and Truffault’s The 400 Blows.

Ruggia’s attempt to bring coherence to the social themes in his story falls flat. His failure to comment on the real world implications of his characters’ circumstances  turns the film into speculative fantasy. The violence is stylized in a way that reveals a lack of seriousness or respect of the subject manner. Blending childhood innocence with sex and violence borders on psychotic impulse. Many scenes aim for crude realism but appear out of context and exploitative. Our empathy is challenged by an incessant sadism with no psychological explanation. An army of street kids raiding a psychiatric ward to liberate a patient, is too incredible to believe. The film frequently veers into violence and sex like a mental patient’s Tourette blurts.

This is Adèle Haenel’s first film, as a child actress, and I imagine it was a grueling experience, equivalent to say, a Kubrick role. I honestly wish I hadn’t seen it. Adèle would later speak negatively of the experience, labeling it misguided excess. Another example of a young director obtaining funding for supposedly challenging content but with none of the reverence for art and beauty that someone like Bruno Dumont brought to La Vie De Jesus. This is bold, but stupid, even for Gaspar Noé standards. What I imagine Pasolini’s Salo to be like, except dumber and without cultural/historical merit.

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Categories: female leads, Notes

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