Tag Archives: Daniel Bruhl

TIFF19: My Zoe

If you love Julie Delpy, as I do, you probably love her talky scripts, her hyper-verbal, over-analytical characters who leave no thought unspoken. She has a knack for combining drama and comedy and elevating both with intelligent commentary. My Zoe is quite a departure. Which isn’t to say that it’s not smart or insightful. But it is very, very different.

Isabelle (Delpy), loving mother to Zoe (Sophia Ally) is going through a divorce from her husband, James (Richard Armitage). Their daughter’s custody is their battleground. They both love and want her desperately, but they might also have the need to hurt and wound each other however they can. It hasn’t been easy. Zoe is a sweet little girl who is too young to understand the animosity. When James notices a bruise on Zoe’s arm, he is not un-accusing of Isabelle. When Isabelle hears Zoe sneeze, she is not un-accusing of James. They are suspicious of each other’s parenting, determined to be the Best and Most Devoted One. I wish I could say that all dissolves when it turns out Zoe is gravely ill.

A mystery illness strikes quickly, and severely, and the waiting room where the two parents wait is a literal tiny glass box where their tension just bounces off the walls and back into their bodies, ratcheting up the hostility with each allegation lobbed. Is it love gone sour that has them at each other’s throats, or just fear and frustration? Truly, to be the parent of a sick child is the most helpless one can feel. It’s no wonder they seek their scapegoats. Up until this point, the movie is riveting: emotional and raw, full of anger and spite. But then it makes a u-turn.

The next half is so materially different that you might wonder if you’d fallen asleep and woken up during an entirely different movie. It’s still Julie Delpy, still playing a devoted mother, obsessed, even. But everything else has changed: the characters, her surroundings, and most of all: the tone. It’s disorienting trying to get your bearings in this new reality.

Delpy is of course quite good – sometimes astonishing, sometimes vehement, often dangerous and despairing. Her performance is a wail heard by mothers everywhere. But it also reaches beyond the normal, natural borders of motherhood and asks: what else? The answers are not necessarily comfortable.


A young couple, Lena (Emma Watson) and Daniel (Daniel Bruhl), are enjoying each other’s company in Chile when shit hits the fan. She’s just a flight attendant but he’s a journalist who’s become politically involved, so when the country undergoes a military coup in 1973, he’s fingered in a lineup and disappeared by Pinochet’s secret police.

He winds up at Colonia Dignidad, on the face just another weird cult run by a crazy preacher named Paul Schäfer but, in fact, it also doubles as a torture prison. Lena decides joining the cult is her best bet to save Daniel, so in she 145384413856a7e6aa400begoes, putting herself at the mercy of a nutbar pedophile cult leader and his woman-beating cronies. This is the kind of movie into which you can never lose yourself entirely because you keep pulling yourself out of it to yell at the protagonists. You know in a horror movie the whole theatre is practically yelling “Don’t go in there” but of course she goes in there, even though we all knew better? And she gets diced into a million bite-sized pieces? Well this is one of those movies, except it isn’t a horror, and there’s no excuse for doing what it does. Bad writing, I suspect, and a movie that doesn’t really know what it wants to be when it grows up. With two idiot protagonists who keep making the dumbest decisions ever, you won’t care whether they live or die. And for a film that’s trying to shed some light on a pretty gruesome chapter in Chilean history, it’s also succumbing to the misplaced love story temptation. Because nothing overcomes a cruel dictator like True Love between nitwits.