On the occasion of the release of his seventh feature film, My Zoe, we were able to meet Julie Delpy. For this project, she takes on several roles including that of director, screenwriter and actress in the lead role.
After Lolo (2015), Looking for Jimmy (2002), The Countess (2009), Julie Delpy is back with a family drama, in theaters June 30, 2021.
In a family broken up by divorce, Isabelle (Julie Delpy) takes charge of her life while fighting for custody of her daughter Zoe. Her ex-husband James (Richard Armitage) doesn’t let her get away easily. Struck by tragedy, the family explodes. Isabelle refuses to let fate take its course and takes matters into her own hands. A maternal love without limits is represented in this film, love drawn from the personal life of Julie Delpy.
Last week, we met Julie Delpy at the Hoxton Hotel in Paris. We talked about achievement, personal inspiration, and how to step out of your comfort zone by ignoring the expectations of others.
My Zoe is a film that represents the limitless love of a mother for her child. Isabelle is ready to the extreme for Zoe. Is this something that you got out of your own life as a mom?
I always say if anyone hurt my son, I would go crazy. I am often called the Mama bear (mom bear). I don’t want us to be mean to him, to hurt him.
The extreme to which Isabelle goes is a rather particular extreme. It is above all an allegory of the fact that we are ready to go to places that are not ethically correct for our little ones. I think a lot of parents would do this for their kids… Well, maybe not all. (laughs)
The film is also about divorce, the impact that a breakup between two people can have on their child. Is that what you wanted to represent?
I wanted to support the idea of this couple separating, while cutting this child in two. In the violence they do to each other, they almost forget their daughter. While it is for the child that they are fighting.
I have often seen people tear themselves apart and forget the essentials that were in front of them.
My Zoe follows a bilingual family. English father, French mother. The family lives in Berlin. It’s something that you have experienced personally, right?
Of course, I know this bilingual, uprooted life, where everyone is of different nationality. My son’s father is German, I am French, my husband is Greek and we live in Los Angeles. I liked to add this idea to the film as well because it is one of the reasons which pushes this couple to engage a stranger, a…
A stranger ?
That’s the word in French! Obliged to hire a stranger to keep the child, because we live in a foreign country, far from the rest of our families. The most important thing in your life may end up in the hands of someone you barely know.
Again, you wore several hats in the creation of this movie. Director, screenwriter, main actress. What is the downside to having a little bit of everything?
Sometimes we find ourselves overworked. We can crack, there is too much to do. On this film, moreover, I was a little knocked out I was overwhelmed, submerged. This film was emotionally draining for me. I’m still getting over it.
The film gives a very intimate atmosphere. We have very few characters. Why did you choose to make this story almost behind closed doors?
It was important for me that it stays in this family unit which is tearing itself apart, trying to reconnect and not succeeding. It’s an intimate film with close characters. Nothing leads us to add external characters. They live this drama together and try to get out of it, together.
Looking at My Zoe, there are three different parts of the film, like three chapters. At the beginning, we follow the development of the relationship of the three main characters. In the second chapter, we witness the drama. And in the third, we see what happens after such a tragedy. The three parts are very distinctly separated. Why did you want to play it like that?
Each act has a different notion of time.
During the first, we slowly discover the characters, their relationships, their lives. Everything goes calmly and we enter a totally different rhythm with the second act where, this time, it is a stretched time that we feel, in the hospital while waiting for the results, when the minutes seem to be hours. Then the third is what happens after such a tragedy. Here again, we took a totally different rhythm.
I worked a lot on how to film the three acts differently, with different places, different lights, a different rhythm.
Why did you choose to almost leave the realism of the story and dive into science fiction for this third act?
The third act is totally separate from the rest of the film. This third part is a bit like a third life, I wanted the film to start with something else. There have been a lot of movies about mourning, very little about the rebirth that follows. Grieving can lead to more dramatic consequences. I try to explore the possibilities that could exist thanks to science.
Since I was little, I write science fiction things, strangely always related to motherhood. It’s something that has always fascinated me so it made sense for me to do that.
How to describe this film?
It is quite atypical. This film is not what is expected of me, already. It is also not so much in a usual form: with the three acts I was telling you about.
Was it complicated to change course and not do what was expected of you?
For the financing of films, we have to redo what has been successful before. We would like me to do the same thing ten times, I don’t like that.
This is precisely why I took 6 years to financially edit the film. Obviously, when you try to do different things, there is a price. The price is a lot of suffering (laughs). I almost made another film in the meantime but the motivation I had for this one was greater. Sometimes I say it was harder to make this movie than if I was cloning a child (laughs). It’s a joke… But, not really. (laughs)
When you leave the cinema, what do you want people to take away from your film?
I want us to ask questions.
In relation to what Isabelle does: should we judge her according to our ethics? Our culture ?
Compared to everything that happens in the world, all the violence, we realize that Isabelle is not doing anything bad towards the rest of us. She is looking for a way to save her child, without taking anything from anyone, without bothering anyone. What bothers so much after all? What makes us so uncomfortable about his project?