Rating: 4 out of 5.

(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz) 

Family is almost never as simple as raising children until they go to college. Thinly veiled underneath this idealistic storyline is the turmoil and dysfunction that some fight against on a daily basis. For a film like All to Play For (originally titled, Rien à Perdre) that highlights the devastation that comes with separation, its deceptively simple premise manages to reveal the grit of how familial bonds can mean so much (or so little) to some people– all in a shockingly realistic light.

Our protagonist, Sylvie (Virginie Efira), is a single mother by day, nightclub bartender by night, living a life of organized chaos that suits her somewhat wild demeanor. When her youngest child, Sofiane (Alexis Tonetti), burns himself in the middle of night, he is rushed to the hospital by his older brother, Jean-Jeaques (Félix Lefebvre). Child services catch wind of the incident and take Sofiane to a foster home. What starts as a legal precaution spirals out of control into a heated fight between the childcare facilities and Sylvie, who “cleans up her act” in hopes of seeing her youngest come home one day. Things get increasingly tense as she continues fighting not just to bring Sofiane home, but to rise against the unforgiving power structures keeping them apart. Undergoing inner transformation all the while, Sylvie’s patience, mental health and self image are all put to the ultimate test.

When I heard that Virginie Efira was playing the lead role in an official Cannes selection, I was immediately excited. She completely stole the show in the recently released Other People’s Children, which set my expectations high. Even so, Efira manages to carry the film once more with All to Play For. Both titles prove her strength in playing maternal figures that are truly down to earth, with performances that feel scarily candid. In All to Play For, we get to see more of her range as buried frustrations and bouts of darkness start to seep to the surface in Sylvie’s character. Further proving Efira’s talent without skipping a beat, her mystical ability to ground each performance in realism makes her an actress to look out for in the near future.

Just as impressively, Alexis Tonetti’s performance as Sofiane created a heartbreakingly convincing synergy with Eifra that managed to knock the already emotional premise out of the park. Successfully portraying such a complex character being tugged in many different directions is already a win, but to see a child actor excel in that role is nothing less than a crowning achievement.

I initially feared that an inactive plot would result from the premise being rooted in a legal conflict. Nevertheless, the writing manages to shine as the horrors of Sylvie’s crisis unfold minute after minute, barrier after barrier. The screenplay is seemingly rooted in real issues with the foster system (that I am sure most readers are familiar with), but addresses them from an extremely intimate angle that I found truly enlightening. The ridicule rooted in the legal discourse catches the viewer off guard, adding layers of tension until it becomes overwhelmingly mortifying. Allowing our anticipations to sink with that of our characters’, a mutual understanding is reached between the audience and the screen, keeping us in touch with the breaking point of the protagonist. It is a social commentary to a degree but is evidently rooted in something more personal, revealing the lack of heart that comes with blind leadership, and unveiling the true danger in assuming the best for others.

As a horror and thriller fan reviewing what could be classified as a family drama, I managed to find myself completely sucked into the pit of despair that Sylvie falls victim to. I appreciate that there wasn’t any aspect of the production to distract from its emotional core thanks to the consistent creative vision. Between a cramped and messy apartment space that our characters call home, the soulless set design of the government and foster buildings, and the handheld shots that follow the chaotic bits of Eifra’s performance, many underrated production aspects all seamlessly weave into the main dish of desolation. While the story is largely rooted in darkness, both visually and conceptually, that doesn’t come without the occasional glimpses of light. Deloget reminds us to appreciate the value in spending time with those we love, even in the face of adversity.

Needless to say, this promising debut feature from director Delphine Deloget is a reserved tear-jerker made with purpose, sure to stick with the audience. Don’t be afraid to step into Sylvie’s shoes as she undergoes a powerful journey when All to Play For premieres at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, May 25th.

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