The Roads Not Taken

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Roads Not Taken
dir-scr Sally Potter
prd Christopher Sheppard
with Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney, Branka Katic, Milena Tscharntke, Debora Weston, Griffin Stevens, Waleed Akhtar, Ray Jahan, Dimitri Andreas, Cory Peterson
release US 13.Mar.20,
UK 1.May.20
20/UK Bleecker Street 1h25

hayek linney potter

bardem and fanning
Sally Potter's precise imagery and sound give this drama a vivid atmosphere, although the grim honesty is rather challenging to engage with. The top-notch cast delivers wrenching performances that dig deeply into the characters, adding strong sparks of life to the film's bleak tone. But this feels right for the topic, which connects on various levels as a man faces his mortality, wondering where he is and who he could have become.
In the grip of dementia, Leo (Bardem) lives on his own in New York, watched over by his daughter Molly (Fanning) and carer Xenia (Katic). On this day, Leo's mind is wandering through alternative versions of his life as a writer and his relationship with his first love Dolores (Hayek). This happens as Molly escorts him to a series of appointments. There are also a few unexpected sideroads, one of which requires help from Leo's ex-wife, Molly's mother Rita (Linney). Along the way, Molly also begins to realise that she needs to make some changes.
Working with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Potter pays close attention to detail. This gives the film an uncanny authenticity as it flickers around in Leo's imagined lives, from his rural Mexican home with Dolores to a Greek seaside writing retreat, where he meets a young woman (Tscharntke) who reminds him of the daughter he neglected because of his work. There are also terrific ripples from the cynical Rita, who has moved on but still cares about Leo.

The actors fully inhabit these characters, which makes the film feel somewhat mournful, with only rare glimpses of lightness. Bardem skilfully reveals Leo's personality even within his zoned-out present, drifting in circles of memory. Both Leo and Molly are pondering their existences, and Fanning has perhaps an even trickier role, connecting and disconnecting with her father. In much smaller roles, Hayek and Linney reveal terrific emotional textures in their characters as well.

With a sophisticated approach that never panders to the viewer, Potter evokes intense meaning at each moment, never merely depicting senility, but rather drawing more resonant insights into the nature of life choices, regrets and the hard decisions we make regarding the people we love the most. "Where have you been all day, Dad," Molly asks as she brings him back to his grubby apartment. "I want to go home," he replies enigmatically. This is an artful, sensitive exploration of identity and purpose, seen through an unusual prism. If you connect into its distinct rhythms, it's powerfully haunting.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Apr.20

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