All to Play For 2023 Movie Review
“We think, for now, it’s the best thing for him and for you”, “you need to sort your own problems out before you preach at us”, “when you get a fever, you don’t blame the thermometer”. What do you do when the world seems to cave in around you, when everything seems to happen at once and every reaction leaves you with the ongoing, destabilising, cruel impression that you’re suffering a great injustice? This is the Kafkaesque situation that a mother, who suddenly has her youngest child taken away from her, is wrestling with in All To Play For, Delphine Deloget’s first fiction feature screened in the 76th Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section.
“You don’t know whether it’s serious? What’s happened? – We couldn’t get hold of you. – I was working – Did you know he was all alone?” When the police come looking for Sylvie (Virginie Efira) in the bustling nightclub where she works as a bartender, it’s a mother concerned over her eight-year-old son’s health who hotfoots it to the hospital where she finds her other son, teenager Jean-Jacques (the brilliant Félix Lefebvre). But despite second-degree burns on his torso, Sofiane (Alexis Tonetti) is more frightened than he is hurt. By contrast, their kitchen at home is a bombsite: everything went up in flames when the little boy tried to make chips. But all this is nothing for dynamic Sylvie, who’s raising her two sons on her own and who’s the figurehead of her unwavering group of young forty-something friends (including her brother Hervé, a recovering gambling addict played by Arieh Worthalter), who have never given up their party-going ways. But, like a chemical reaction, one thing leads to another and things take a disastrous turn, starting with the eruption of social services (led by India Hair) who decide to remove Sofiane from his family as a precaution and to make sure they’re not dealing with abuse and educational neglect. Incredulous, but wholly determined to get her boy back and prove her worth, Sylvie finds herself trapped in a spiral which she won’t come out of unscathed…
A classic and very well-constructed David and Goliath story (based on a screenplay penned by the director) about a woman stumbling and digging her heels in, sadly to her own detriment, as she wrestles with the bulwarks of the administrative and legal machine, All To Play For also paints an intaglio portrait of the day-to-day atmosphere in the French provinces, the complexities of family ties (also via Sylvie’s other brother, played by Mathieu Demy), and a generation of libertarian spirits who struggle with social integration and who can feel time catching up with them. Delphine Deloget manages these many components methodically, availing herself of some excellent actors in order to offer up a realist, social exploration of what a good mother actually is, the stumbling blocks we encounter in life, and how we do or don’t overcome them.