Julie Delpy’s intriguing My Zoe is an intimate and ambitious take on motherhood that mixes heart wrenching divorce drama, science fiction and thorny moral questions regarding reproduction.
Delpy, who wrote, directed and stars in the film has, in her sophisticated seventh feature, taken on a complex, ultra modern subject. She plays Isabelle, a Berlin-based scientist and the divorced mother of young daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally, natural and winning). The first quarter of the film mixes Isabelle’s warm, doting relationship with Zoe with the Marriage Story– like bitterness of a shared custody arrangement with Zoe’s dad, James (Richard Armitage). The writing is incisive as both Isabelle and James clearly love Zoe but resent one another. Exchanges about pickup times and what days Zoe will spend with each devolve into unsparing verbal lacerations. My Zoe is told largely from Isabelle’s point of view and Delpy creates a fierce portrait of a mother who loves her child with a consuming, protective devotion.
This is the kind of movie with a plot twist so crucial that one can’t divulge it. Suffice to say that a tragedy strikes and My Zoe veers into a medical thriller that puts Isabelle and a Moscow-based doctor (Daniel Bruhl) on a slippery ethical slope. Also snared into the web of scientific intrigue mixed with genuine compassion is the doctor’s wife, played by Gemma Arterton, who forms a bond with Isabelle. There are some aspects of this section that ask the audience to suspend belief but it doesn’t lessen the power of the overall narrative. Delpy goes for something messy, complex and rich in depicting Isabell’s journey. Hers is a loss so unimaginable that few, mothers or not, will have trouble imagining where such deep grief might take even the most levelheaded person.