All To Play For. Not Enough to Stay For.

All To Play For

Sylvie (Virginie Efira) is a good mother. She loves her two sons, Jean-Jacques (Félix Lefebvre) and Sofiane (Alexis Tonetti). But she is also a single mother, caught in the paradox between needing to be there for her children and provide for them financially. While working as a barmaid in a local club, the nine-year-old Sofiane fries some chips. When the fire gets out of control, he chucks water on it, resulting in severe burns across his body. 

It’s unfortunate. The scars will last a lifetime. But in this tightly-knit, slightly off-kilter family — the type that adopts a chicken, or leaves a broken cooker in the middle of a kitchen instead of trying to remove it properly — both boys will recover emotionally. For social services, Sylvie has committed the ultimate sin. Sofiane must be taken away. 

It’s All To Play For (Delphine Deloget, 2023). 

Deloget, entering Un Certain Regard with her debut effort, has a strong knack for piling unfortunate events on top of one another. This predicament feels all the more relatable as circumstances spin wildly out of control, each small mistake magnified out of proportion by the ever-scrutable social services. They have seen it all: dead children, abusive parents, wrecked homes. They’re privy to view Sylvie through the same unforgiving lens. India Hair’s performance as the social worker assigned to the case is particularly chilling: her pass-ag smile and superior, slightly smarmy attitude provide the system with a cold, hard face. 

The action is caught in workmanlike, hand-held, mid-length shots, featuring few, if any, ostentatious flourishes. All focus is on Efira’s performance, evidently gunning for more awards consideration after her Césars-winning performance in Paris Memories (Alice Winocour, 2023). With brio, charm and forceful dialogue delivery, Sylvie is a complex, multi-layered individual, so blinded by her love of her son that she’s rarely able to turn her perspective inwards. 

Certain scenes feel a little tailor-made for a “Consider This” actor reel, featuring combative, visceral speeches, weeping in close-ups and even a (very French) singalong. I found the film more effective in its moments of bizarre, violent behaviour; creating a startling contrast between the coldness of state bureaucracy and Sylvie’s own desperation. 

With shades of Ursula Meier and The Dardenne Brothers, this perfectly respectable French drama will surely break out thanks to Efira’s central role. Still, it’s all a bit too handsome, meaningful, socially aware, balanced. Encouraging more of the unhinged side — as evidenced in two startling sit-up-in-your-chair moments — could’ve elevated this into a more compelling drama, even if the careful social realism would be lost. 

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Redmond is the editor-in-chief of Journey Into Cinema.