Virginie Efira delivers a typically committed performance opposite young breakout star Félix Lefebvre in this debut fiction from Delphine Deloget.
Screenwriting how-to books will often include stern advice about jeopardy. You simply must include jeopardy! Create stakes, then raise those stakes. One guaranteed shortcut to this hallowed state of jeopardy would be to make your lead character a single mum. It’s like playing a computer game on the most difficult setting. One where you will be judged, underestimated and yet simultaneously expected to perform at almost superhuman levels.
Delphine Deloget’s fiction feature debut Rien à perdre! stars Virginie Efira as Sylvie, a single mum to two boys: amiable teenager Jean-Jacques (Félix Lefebvre), and younger “problem child” Sofiane (Alexis Tonetti). She works nights in a rowdy bar, and appears to get little practical support from her two brothers, Herve (Arieh Worthalter) and Alain (Mathieu Demy). Tragedy strikes one night while she’s at work and unreachable, and as a result, social services get very forcefully involved in the family’s life.
The film’s even-handed refusal to fully make a call as to whether Sylvie is a “good mother” (whatever that means) is fascinating. What could feel like a cop-out plays as a humane strategy in an era where mothers, and indeed all kinds of people, are supposed to be sorted neatly into heroes and villains, where viewing and responding to art takes on the tone of a moral assessment. Deloget certainly equips us with an understanding of why Sylvie makes the choices she makes. But the film is not going to go down the easy path of painting her as entirely a passive victim of the system, or, on the other hand, an irresponsible nightmare who deserves what she gets. She’s a flawed person who is generally doing her best. The question hovering on the margins is: what happens when someone’s best is borderline?
Virginie Efira is one of the finest actors currently working, and with Rien à perdre! it feels like she’s completing a quadrilogy of sorts about different forms of motherhood. We had her slippery double performance as an actual mother to two children and fake mother to a different child in the psychological drama Madeleine Collins (2021), her riotous ascent to Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God in the title role of Benedetta (2021), her warm and heartbreaking turn as de facto stepmother in the sublime Other People’s Children (2022), and now Sylvie in Rien à perdre!. Some actors wait a lifetime for four roles showcasing that range, but here’s Efira, casually playing all that and more in just three years, and she excels in all four roles.
That won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with her work. The revelation here, showing himself as potentially a future star of some note, is Félix Lefebvre as Jean-Jacques, with a layered, likeable performance as a teenager mostly trying to avoid conflict. It’s a potentially thankless role too – the straight arrow is rarely as much fun for an actor to play as a fuck-up or wild child. But Lefebvre does a terrific job of telegraphing not just Jean-Jacques’ default impulse to play peacekeeper, but also his inner turmoil. And look, if you manage to play an amiable teenager with a ghost-moustache who breaks out in a rash over his trumpet recital stage fright, but still dignify that character with a sense of fragile charisma, you’re doing something right.
Published 25 May 2023