Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 14, 2024 9:57 am 
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An indictment of the French foster care system

This film can be seen different ways. It's impossible to view it dispassionately. It is set in Brest, in extreme northwestern France, focused on a single mother - dad died when the elder of the two boys, a teen, was two - who's inability to cope leads to the younger son, Sofiane (an explosive Alexis Tonetti), being put into foster care. She has a short fuse, and this makes her less able to "be calm," the standard French admonition. And that in turn leads her to making things worse.

There is a risk of miserablism here. We're in a world of one trouble after another, and the participants making things worse. But there is a secret weapon: the big new French movie star of the moment, Virginie Efira, who is blonde, who is beautiful, who is soulful, and who is versatile as all get out. This is a chance for her to get into the world of hard knocks and she takes us with her, with a passionately loving mother who does not ever turn against her sons and never gives up the fight to get the younger one back from the clutches of the system.

Director Delphone Deloget and her cowriters Olivier Demangel and Camille Fontaine give us the predictable bureaucratic roadblocks to childcare when a family becomes unstable. But they have some surprises up their sleeve and do not accept governmental solutions.

One way of looking at the action is as an argument "against a country’s sometimes overbearing and Kafkaesque social system," as Jordan Mintzer puts it in Hollywood Reporter which as he adds is "a rare thing in French movies" since they "tend to be funded with state money." True, every encounter Sylvie has with child protection, police, or a judge it's a losing battle. But she can't even get along with her support group: director Delphone Deloget makes every scene, from the opening where the kid has severely burned himself making "frites" in the middle of the night when Mom was working her bartending job, into a roiling mini-nightmare.

Sofiane himself has impulse control issues, and eventually trashes a room at the foster home. Sylvie keeps walking out on things and shouting at bureaucrats. Who is at fault? The system, yes. But these folks are unruly. As Mintzer says, the director "pushes her heroine to the brink." Efira, who can be funny, repressed, or regal - every film is something new - never ceases to be soulful and watchable and real whatever she does. But Sylvie is so much a danger to herself, you may find your sympathies stripped down only to teenage son Jean-Jacques (a fine Félix Lefebvre of Summer of 85, who deglamorizes, putting on 20 Kilos for the role), who is drawn to mastering the trumpet, then training as a pastry chef, and just somehow trying to live through this mess of a family life.

But this is a collective and family affair. Sylvie has no time for a boyfriend, but her brothers Hervé (Arieh Worthalter) and Alain (Mathieu Demy) are frequently involved, along with welfare workers like Mme Henry (India Hair) and her overtaxed attorney Asna (Audrey Mikondo). The support group Sylvie can't accept; she finds them too passive and only wants ways to fight the system, not deal with it.

The screenplay, not too surprisingly, leads us to a finale where Sylvie reaches what Mitzer calls an "awful decision" between putting motherly love above all else or just accepting the reality of the situation. Her choice is risky and uncertain - but makes a kind of happy ending that the French social welfare system isn't programmed for. It takes rather a long time to get there.

All to Play For/Rien à perdre, 112 mins., debuted as an official selection at Cannes May 25, 2023; also Al Gouna and Warsaw. Opening theatrically in France Nov. 22, 2023 it received moderate reviews: AlloCiné press rating 3.5: 70%,, spectators 3.8: 76%). Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Feb. 29-Mar. 10, 2024) where it shows at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Showtimes:
Friday, March 1 at 1:30pm
Friday, March 8 at 9:00pm (Q&A with Delphine Deloget)

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