The story of “My Zoe” comes from a few different places. I was witness to a terrible accident with a child who died at my school and to the grief of the parents. And then being a parent yourself, you always think about this and fear it. But I think I had the idea even before that. I remember talking to [Krzysztof] Kieslowski when we were making “Three Colors: White” and discussing the idea of fate, and whether you could change things.
I have seen so many movies in which people deal with death, and the main idea is acceptance. When you think about it, loss is an ancestral burden, particularly for women, who for centuries routinely lost babies at birth or young children. Isabelle refuses that condition of loss; she rebels and tries to recreate a child who is only hers. That’s the No. 1 fear of men, and I think that’s partly why this idea upsets many people.
You divide the film into three parts, and the first shows the grim, petty realities of divorce; why was it important to you to set up the story in that way?
I was writing the film in the middle of a separation, and sorting out custody of our kid, and it was important to me to have the first act be all about that horrible stuff, because I wanted to show how people forget the big thing: the well-being of the child. Sometimes in films, you get the bigger picture of separation; they don’t do the minutiae of breaking up with a child [involved]. I wanted to build a story from something rooted in reality, so that when you move into the next act, it doesn’t feel like science fiction.
The second part, after Zoe’s accident, is luckily less familiar to most of us but still grounded in reality, and then we move into the third part, to events that are a possibility in the near future if not now. I didn’t want to be judgmental about Isabelle’s actions, just show her point of view. I am not saying that cloning is a good thing, but I’m saying, let’s not blind ourselves: When I.V.F. was first done, people called it evil and now they don’t think twice. For me, it’s an allegory of what people are capable of doing.
Daniel Brühl said that you can be “very nerdy, very precise, a real perfectionist” as a director. How did you manage that role alongside this emotionally draining part in “My Zoe”?