Sylvie (Virginie Efira) promises her young son Sofiane a party when he returns in “All to Play For,” not knowing when he’ll come back after child protective services arrives at her home. There would be no reason for them to show up if allowed to see what director Delphine Deloguet presents to an audience, with Sylvie working late nights at a club to provide for herself and Sofiane as well as her older son Jean-Jacques when Sofiane unwisely decides to try and cook fries on the stove and a splash of hot oil results in second degree burns. Bandages are applied at the hospital, but the incident rips open a wound when the local DA is alerted to possible neglect and when Sylvie has no time to herself, let alone to return calls to social services, it’s only a matter of time before Mrs. Henry (India Hair) shows up at the family’s apartment to take custody of Sofiane.
As bad a moment as it may seem for Sylvie, it makes for an intriguing time to explore in Delguet’s compelling character study where the single mother has seemingly overcome all obstacles for a stable life and has it all thrown out of whack by a freak accident. “All to Play For” opens with Sylvie appearing as a pillar in a raucous world, tending to anyone that’s over exerted themselves at the club and thinking nothing of taking the stray hen that somehow found its way to the dance floor home. She’s got time to listen to Jean-Jacques practice his trumpet and offer small adjustments and watch over a friend’s baby during her off-hours, but when confidence in how she does things has brought order to her life and afforded a selfless generosity that she likely hadn’t received from others, it can have devastating results once it’s shaken, unable to see what anyone else does as those working Sofiane’s case increasingly take a dim view of everything that follows their initial report.
While the self-assured Efira can be counted on to let audiences in with a glance, Delguet is meticulous in setting up Sylvie’s slow-motion nightmare, nodding to what the character has already given up so as not to rock the boat when a music programming job in Spain could be hers if only she’d think about herself rather than others for once and feeling helpless as Sofiane’s desire to be back home is mistaken for trauma by the authorities who want to put him on medication as a cure. Sylvie isn’t one to always have the best answer, apt to try to jam a broken stove through a doorway that’s too small when convinced it’ll fit rather than strip it for parts, but as her visitation rights are gradually reduced, it becomes clear all that she held together in her life, going well beyond her immediate family. Although “All to Play For” has a narrative drive on par with Sylvie’s determination, Delguet mirrors the delicacy of the situation by illuminating the nuances that often get lost in the system.
“All to Play For” will screen at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Un Certain Regard on May 26th at 8:30 am at the Debussy Theatre, 11:15 am at Licorne and 4:45 pm at the Cineum Imax and May 27th at 11 am at Cineum Screen X.