‘My Zoe’: Film Review

Variety | 12/14/2019 | Jessica Kiang
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There are two films in Julie Delpy’s ambitious, sharply-made but unbalanced “My Zoe.” There’s the scabrous relationship melodrama, about bitter exes sharing custody of a beloved child, which contains the story’s most potent emotions. And there’s the sci-fi-inflected ethical-dilemma grief movie, which houses its most provocative ideas. Both have much to recommend them, not least Delpy’s lithe filmmaking, polished over her now seven features to a consummate, unobtrusive sheen. But the transition between the two halves or, more appropriately, the cloning of the second from a tissue sample of the first, plays awkwardly, and suggests that Delpy’s screenwriting, while studded with moments of shrewd insight, as yet lags some way behind her standards as director and actress.

Shot in bright, fresh tones by “Jackie” and “Captain Fantastic” DP Stéphane Fontaine, the film’s near-future setting is subtly indicated by tech only slightly advanced from our own: cars that whirr rather than roar; cellphones and monitors that are elegant sheets of transparent glass. Isabelle (Delpy) is a Berlin-based French scientist whose adored little daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally) lives with her only half the time due to a split custody agreement with her snarling ex, James (Richard Armitage). “It’s like I’m missing half her life!” she frets to her new lover Akil (Saleh Bakri), but since she was the instigator of the divorce, she apparently felt the need to be generous to James on its terms.

Intransigent - James - Graciousness - Return - Isabelle

The intransigent James offers no such graciousness in return: He is inflexible when Isabelle requests a scheduling swap, and misses no chance to viciously undercut her suitability as a mother. Then on one of Isabelle’s nights, Zoe goes to sleep with mild cold symptoms but won’t wake up in the morning. Isabelle rushes her to hospital, where she and James and then Isabelle’s mother (Lindsay Duncan, whose resemblance to...
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