My Zoe movie review & film summary (2021)

In “My Zoe,” her latest film as a writer/director/actor, Delpy’s character Isabelle is the mourning blue of its melancholic story, which presents a mother and ex-wife grieving over her daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally) falling into a coma, while clashing with her ex-husband James (Richard Armitage), and opting for a futuristic way out of her pain. Delpy handles this in such a raw, aching, trusting fashion. It is stunning then, to see Delpy claim in the film’s press notes that it’s not a personal story, so much as inspired by a fear of losing her own son. This is more about Delpy’s imagination about such a horror, and yet it has the compelling stream of consciousness of watching someone write a journal entry. It’s a strong testament to her emotional boldness as a storyteller, in front of and behind the camera.

There is a great deal of slowly building sadness in this story for Delpy’s Isabelle, starting with the failed marriage that we get glimpses of in numerous spiteful conversations. Before Zoe is in a coma, the film’s biggest problem is about the couple sharing custody of their daughter, trading days and finding some balance, her job as an immunologist often getting in the way. James is vengeful about how the marriage ended, even though there’s a clear urgency within him to try to salvage it. Isabelle broke it long ago, and though she hugs him when he asks for it after a fight early into the movie, she does so with her eyes wide open. 

One morning while staying with Isabelle, Zoe does not wake up. Her comatose state, brought by an aneurysm after a playground accident the day before, is a nightmare that the film slowly slinks into. Inside a Berlin hospital, Isabelle and James wait for answers and volley their angst, while Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography sometimes catches their spats from a distance, always with an icy blue sheen. With dialogue that’s sometimes clunky with backstory about their complicated past, they seem to only find a break when Zoe’s latest news proves too much bear. Blame about Zoe’s condition becomes the only type of resolve that seems in grasp. The news gets worse and worse, and Delpy and Armitage show the natural, quiet wear these developments would have on a parent. 

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