Sometimes the world of film and filmmaking is a rather circuitous one. Rare is the film that is written, cast, shot, and then released. Most struggle along at each step. No matter what the size, subject or who is in the film. For instance, Julie Delphy is an actress and director who is a known entity. In France and also to North American audiences. Still, her very personal film, Ma Zoe, has struggled to be screened. Even after taking part in TIFF in 2019. Now, over two years later, it is out in its original English version with French subtitles.
Ma Zoe is what is usually branded as a “small” film. Small even though it is about the HUGE issue of life itself. Life and death and the ethics surrounding it due to all the scientific technology we have developed. We are more able to control the beginning and end of life as we know it. Because we can, should we? This question and more are all examined in this 100 minute film.
It is a film which is all Julie Delphy. She wrote, directed and stars in it. Obviously, this is a very personal film for her. You can feel that in every frame of the film. It is saturated with emotion. With the idea of losing a child and being so desperate to want them back, you would do anything. Even something many would deem immoral.
Being a newly divorced woman, working as a geneticist and trying to raise her young daughter means that Isabelle (Julie Delphy – Before Sunrise, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has a full, hectic life. She and her husband James (Richard Armitage – Ocean’s 8, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)are still in the fighting and working out the custody phase, so they go see a mediator often. The wounds are fresh and they fight a lot. Especially about their daughter Zoe (Sophia Ally – The Current War).
Tension between them goes up a millionfold when suddenly from one day to the next Zoe lapses into a coma. Their daughter is hanging on by a thread and they are lashing out at each other. Blaming one another for what has happened when it is really no one’s fault. Then things go from bad to worse. Shattered each parent handles things differently. Isabelle is going to turn to what she knows best for comfort – science.
Mostly good then devolving into something that feels forced and strange. Almost like there are two different movies that were glued together. Edges not really lining up. The first half deals with the repercussions on all involved when a marriage/family breaks apart. A raw and human story. Then the second half features a 180 degree turn into something that is more sci-fi than family drama. It is not what most will see coming and rather daring of Delphy, but it falls flat. Like a botched experiment.
It is not due to Delphy….mostly. She is great as Isabelle. And has written an original script. Something that has not been done before. A film which is part tale as old as time melded with a very modern twist. Yet it doesn’t what reach the heights it is aspiring to. It is the director’s hat she wears which messes things up. Delphy has got the pacing wrong here. Too much time is spent on the middle part of the film and as such the ending seems less than fleshed out and rushed. Doesn’t give you a chance to wrap you brain around what is happening.