For her seventh feature film behind the camera, writer-director-star Julie Delpy has decided to deal with parenthood and the weight of loss in a daring way. Set in Berlin, My Zoe’s ambitious three-act structure sees Isabelle (Delpy) dealing with her divorce from James (Richard Armitage) and the custody battle over the titular Zoe (Sophia Ally). An unimaginable tragedy befalls them, leading Isabelle to fight against the hand life has dealt her.
My Zoe goes from a relatively straightforward domestic drama to a bracing melodrama, all the way to a sci-fi inflected tale. Each tonal shift progressively unmoors you from your comfort zones, surprising us with unexpected developments and raising ethical and moral questions – none of which shall be spoilt here. It’s a daring gamble that pays off in the sense many of My Zoe’s audacious narrative twists and themes stick with you. It is, however, less successful when it comes to fully incorporating these acts to make a satisfying whole.
You’ve got to hand it to Delpy for taking the road less travelled by, and for thoughtfully handling the various protagonists so that they never feel reduced to “the sympathetic parent” / “the evil parent”. The cast are uniformly strong and the way the drama addresses parental anxieties and the fight against all-encompassing and paralyzing grief is fascinating. Still, many may find that this compelling film is more engaging when discussed amongst friends afterwards rather than actually watched. But maybe that’s the point.
My Zoe | Directed by Julie Delpy (Germany / France, 2019), with Julie Delpy, Richard Armitage, Daniel Brühl, Sophia Ally. Starts Nov 14.
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