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‘All to Play For’ review: Virginie Efira excels at a custody drama with no easy fixes


The Cannes Film Festival today wouldn’t be without at least one film starring the prolific Franco-Belgian actress Virginie Efira, who has since made regular appearances at the Croisette in director Justine Triet’s second film, Victoriain 2016.

Last year, Efira beat Serge Bozon’s Don Juan and that of Alice Winocour Parisian memorieswhile also starring in Rebecca Zlotowski’s Venice selection, Children of other people. (The last two films were both recently released by Music Box in the US)

Everything to play for

It comes down to

A penetrating portrait of motherhood.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Form: Virginie Efira, Félix Léfebvre, Arieh Worthalter, Mathieu Demy, India Hair
Director, screenwriter: Delphine Deloget

1 hour 52 minutes

This year, the actress, who started hosting game shows, talk shows and sketch comedy on TV, is coming to Cannes with a pair of dark dramas: Valérie Donzelli’s Just the two of us and writer-director Delphine Deloget’s first time Everything to play for (Rien à perdre).

Deloget’s poignant debut, about a single mother fighting to regain custody of her youngest son from French child protection services, shows Efira at her toughest and best, playing a woman cornered by a system that doesn’t let her down. easy way out.

When we first meet her character Sylvie, she is thriving as the mother of a teenager, Jean-Jacques (the excellent Félix Lefebvre, from François Ozon’s Summer of 85), and 8-year-old Sofiane (newcomer Alexis Tonetti, also great), as they worked the bar in a club full of drunk, sweaty men her age. Unable to get a good night’s sleep, Sylvie is always tired and rushing around, whether she needs to stock the bar, take her sons to school or take care of her brother Hervé (Arieh Worthalter), who still a bit like a child.

Initial, Everything to play for (the better French title simply translates as Nothing to lose) feels like a fast paced dramedy about a mother in her 40s who has too much on her plate. Even the opening scene, which sees Jean-Jacques rush Sofiane to the hospital after the latter burns herself making french fries and starts a small fire in their kitchen, feels more like a comical anecdote.

But that incident continues to haunt the family and then some when a child protection worker, Mademoiselle Henry (India Hair), shows up a few weeks later with two officers and takes Sofiane to a foster care home. It’s a heartbreaking sequence to watch, and despite the fact that Sylvie is clearly a loving mother, French authorities believe she is a danger to her own son.

From that moment on, Everything to play for turns into a downward spiraling drama in which Sylvie repeatedly tries to get Sofiane back, but fails to enlist a lawyer (Audrey Mikondo) and her more responsible brother, Alain (Mathieu Demy), to help her. The more she persists, the harder it gets – sometimes because Sylvie tries at hard and does not seem stable, even though her instability is caused by what is happening.

The other reason is that Mademoiselle Henry seems completely blind to the person in front of her, refusing to acknowledge that Sylvie can be both caring and chaotic at the same time. Earlier we saw her help Jean-Jacques with his trumpet practice or dig up a toy that Sofiane can’t find in his bedroom. She is definitely doing her best with her sons and as a result has no real private life, but the French authorities are missing this crucial fact.

Indeed, Everything to play for can sometimes feel like an argument against a country’s sometimes overbearing and Kafkaesque social system, which is rare in French films that are mostly state-funded. Whether facing child protective services, the police or a judge, Sylvie continues to fight a losing battle and as the weeks and months pass she begins to lose her mind.

Efira plays these scenes so authentically that we believe it when she freaks out, as her character usually does. But her performance is also laced with tender and tragic moments, such as when Sylvie is forced to meet Sofiane at the foster home with a counselor watching, in a scene as devastating as it is frustrating: Can’t the social workers see what we see? Do they even know what love is?

Deloget puts the stack so high against the system that it seems a little unfair, but it makes for compelling drama. She pushes her heroine to the limit, leading to a finale in which Sylvie faces a terrible decision: accept the reality of her situation or put her mother’s love first. The choice she makes may not seem wise, but then again, Everything to play for goes beyond mere questions of right and wrong to show us what matters most.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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