All To Play For


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

All To Play For
"All To Play For questions much and wagers on love and sunshine." | Photo: David Koska

Over the opening credits in Delphine Deloget’s All To Play For (Rien à perdre) we hear a young boy scream. He, Sofiane (Alexis Tonetti), sits in a shopping cart and is being pushed by his older brother Jean-Jacques (Félix Lefebvre) who rushes him on a street at night to the local hospital.

Meanwhile their mother Sylvie (Virginie Efira, as powerful and complex as ever) works in a club behind a bar and is seen aiding someone off the dance floor. She is gifted a live chicken, who functions as mascot, surplus, and beating heart throughout the movie. The police arrive to tell her about Sofiane’s second-degree burns on his chest. He was hungry and wanted to make fries in the middle of the night while she was not there and so the ordeal begins.

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We see the totally burnt out kitchen, a hellish mess with a stove that ironically cannot even be taken out the door without having it disassembled. The shots (cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman) trigger a visceral reaction because everybody remembers moments when chaos in the physical world piles on top of other chaos and suddenly the obstacles seem insurmountable and all you can do is get some fresh air. They take the hen out to pasture and mom explains to her burnt, bandaged child that the animal cannot fly because of clipped wings. The film is less than seven minutes old and we are already fully emotionally engaged in this family who are all individuals struggling to get something right.

Older son Jean-Jacques cooks and bakes and Sylvie at the club is asked to check on her own troubled brother Hervé (Arieh Worthalter, star of Mathieu Amalric’s Hold Me Tight with Vicky Krieps). Dressed in a wife-beater undershirt, his girlfriend threw him out and Sylvie takes him back home, where lo and behold, in the still unruly kitchen the chicken snacks on some cornflakes strewn on the counter. This animal is the magic ingredient, signifier of the always-too-much and out-of-place, the ultimate symbol of life with nothing to lose, which is the literal translation of the title.

Normal life resumes. A friend drops off her baby with Sylvie for the day, Jean-Jacques plays trumpet in the school orchestra, Sofiane wants to show off the wounds to his classmates and tells the kids that “a dragon did it”. At a party at her home Sylvie sings Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert’s Les Feuilles Mortes. Her friends chime in and the beautiful melancholy tune becomes a harbinger of cold days ahead.

Madame Henry (India Hair), a social worker for welfare services takes Sofiane away into foster care. The boy does not want to leave home, friends write letters of support about how good a mother Sylvie is, but once the system has them in their clutches, mercilessly, impersonally, an entirely new battle begins. Sylvie has another brother, Alain (Mathieu Demy) who helps her “touch up her resumé” and gets her a job in the office at the company he works for. Able to see her son only every two weeks, she hires a lawyer to appeal, and joins a not very effective self-help group, where members have been waiting to regain custody of their children for two, three, eight, and 12 years respectively.

More and more details flesh out the characters. We hear that Jean-Jacques’s father died when he was only two and that after he started playing the trumpet his binge-eating stopped. What we see is slightly different. He loves to bake and performing music on stage causes him to break out in a rash.

The system has closed in. Sylvie is allowed to see Sofiane only Wednesdays, there are rules what she can and cannot say, no gifts except on birthdays, no crying, no going outside. The boy sports an ugly new haircut, they speak of “conflict of loyalty”, and there is talk of medicating the child. The violent reality of helplessness unfolds most powerfully in scenes where the actors’ faces express more than words can say, launching big and small epiphanies.

Sylvie arrives late at work in the open cubicle office, all stressed out. There is a quick exchange of glances with her brother Alain. Efira and Demy’s great acting skills make us silently understand the vastness and universality of that moment. She is expected to function, answer the phone, play along, as if nothing happened, despite everything. Moments like these are when the film blossoms and asks questions about modern work environments, robotic interactions, mental health.

“Every morning I have a pit in my stomach before going,” says Alain about his workplace for ten years. Now, with his sister there as well “the pit has grown into a basketball”. He tells her about this as they sit in her kitchen, while Jean-Jacques is practicing the trumpet in the other room. Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud and the mood set by Miles Davis and his trumpet in the 1958 noir suddenly came to mind and I had to laugh because of the discrepancy in Zeitgeist. Other times, other anxieties and the strange nostalgia is shattered by Alain’s out-of time suggestion that maybe if Sylvie met a guy her problems might be over.

No knight in shining armor is equipped to take on the monsters in this tale. Sylvie has to confront them herself, especially when they come with the most venomous smile, as when Madame Henry confides in the desperate mother that her son will go to a foster family: ”I had to fight hard - people don’t want children like Sofiane.” The halls of horrors have shifted but evil and good still fight. Doing your job and following orders and fearing for your security and becoming more artificial in your intelligence than AI and defying the law - All To Play For questions much and wagers on love and sunshine.

While the plot of a mother fighting to regain custody of her son may seem straightforward, the emotional, societal, bureaucratic reverberations in this finely spun debut feature by Delphine Deloget, premiering in the Un Certain Regard section of the 76th Cannes Film Festival, are anything but.

Reviewed on: 25 May 2023
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A mum battles to get her child back after an injury while she was out sees him taken into care.

Director: Delphine Deloget

Writer: Delphine Deloget

Starring: Virginie Efira, Felix Lefebvre, Alexis Tonetti, Arieh Worthalter, Mathieu Demy, India Hair

Year: 2023

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: France


Cannes 2023

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