Review by Sean Boelman
A few actors and actresses have become such Cannes mainstays that their name being attached to a project is often enough to make it one of the highest-profile titles of the festival. Benedetta star Virginie Efira’s newest vehicle All to Play For is premiering in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes, and Efira manages to breathe life into the otherwise uneven picture.
The film follows a family who, after an accident while the mother is not home, finds themselves torn apart when the child is taken away by protective services and placed in a foster home. This is a premise that feels like it is going to be an exaggerated melodrama, but the approach it takes is much more grounded — if not remotely quiet.
With a runtime of over an hour and fifty minutes, the movie manages to get its point across relatively early and spends most of the rest of its length reiterating itself. Although what we see is often nothing short of devastating, it also feels like overkill. It’s clear that the film wants us to know that this is an important issue — it’s just a tad on the aggressive side.
There are certainly some interesting questions asked by the movie, particularly when it comes to parenting and what exactly makes a good parent. Unfortunately, as many of us will know, the answer is far from black-and-white. Still, the film seems much more preoccupied with pointing fingers than providing an actual solution.
Virginie Efira plays the lead role in the movie, and as is usually the case with everything she does, she manages to elevate the material. The role is complex — equal parts frustrating and compelling — but Efira manages to capture all the nuance of the character in an utterly heartbreaking and captivating way.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about All to Play For — and it is an issue that tends to plague films with these themes — is that it fails to give an adequate voice to the people who matter most in this situation: the children. This story is, first and foremost, about the mother and the pain she suffers. The movie would have been much more effective had it taken a moment to stop and truly dive into what the kids are feeling.
The film is very simplistic in its approach, with an emphasis on the performances over technicality. Delphine Deloget’s narrative feature debut is unflashy by design, and this grounded, realism-based approach works well in making the message resonate more deeply and avoid the pitfalls of melodrama.
All to Play For makes its point, and if that is the only metric for success, it knocks it out of the park. Unfortunately, the movie otherwise ends up feeling a bit heavy-handed and overlong. Still, Efira’s performance saves it and makes it worth the watch.
All to Play For is screening at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.