Gruelling, intense, and brutal, Les Diables is, as its title suggests, a hellish little film. The devils are 12-year-old Joseph (Vincent Rottiers) and his sister Chloé (Adele Haenel), who have spent their formative years in care. Joseph is angry, resourceful, and hard beyond his years, but his sister is quiet, withdrawn, and autistic, making each of their repeated escape attempts especially dangerous. Coaxing startling performances from his young stars, writer/director Christophe Ruggia delivers a searing portrait of childhood love on the run.
Abandoned on the streets of Marseilles as a child, Joseph wants nothing more than to return to his estranged family. He's convinced that Chloé wants the same, since her mosaics of broken glass always return to the same image of a simple house. Desperately hoping that returning home will make his sister normal again, he's running out of patience with the care system's attempts to keep them both locked up.
While the episodic plot piles on fraught scenes of tension, violence, and troubling sexual urges, it's the quality of the acting that makes this mesmerising. In their screen debuts, Rottiers and Haenel deliver two amazing performances, with Rottiers literally burning off the screen like a young Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile Haenel proves utterly convincing as his silent, obsessive-compulsive, and deeply troubled sibling (memo to Dustin Hoffman: this little Rain Woman deserves your Oscar).
Charging towards the inevitably downbeat conclusion as though locked in freefall, Les Diables isn't an indictment of the care system, or an angry call for change, but simply a grim character study of two troubled tots who are too young to manage on their own, but old enough to hurt themselves while they try.
In French with English subtitles.