Opening in Australian Cinemas on Thursday 17 June.
* * * 1/2
Julie Delpy is known for a deep and diverse body of acting work, including Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise pictures, but since 2002 she has directed and written or co-written seven feature films that are also admirably ambitious in the breadth of their styles, genres and themes. The general vibe has been comedic, but her latest, My Zoe, isn’t concerned in the slightest with making us laugh. For awhile – its first act – it is a lacerating, astute rendering of a custody battle; the barbs, insults and low-blows delivered by Delpy’s character Isabelle and Richard Armitage’s James are painfully well observed: this is how couples really fight. Then it becomes a devastatingly sad parental medical drama, as the child over whom they are warring, the titular Zoe, suffers a particular affliction. But just after the halfway point, it really turns, and a few tiny technological clues we’ve been given over the first hour – blink and you’ll miss ‘em – quietly reveal themselves as signposts that we’re in a world that is either a little in the future or slightly alternate to our own; the third act is, thrillingly, quiet, controlled, clinical sci-fi.
This deeply sad film really got its claws into me. Delpy’s monastic constraint renders the sensational subject matter devoid of sensationalism; everything is austere, calm, precise. She uses no score, there are no obvious visual effects; nothing is played for effect, only truth. Isabelle is a flawed, complicated character, whom Delpy plays with zero vanity (and, seemingly, zero make-up). There are some motivational leaps in the second half that may put off some viewers; others may find the whole situation too distressing. I was entranced by the film’s deeply somber mood, its sober tone, and its audacious honesty: I was in for Delpy’s dark ride.