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The Roads Not Taken ( 2020 )

  |   March 2, 2020

In Sally Potter's newest work, The Roads Not Taken, which premiered at Berlinale 2020, she explores a personal tale of early onset dementia, which claimed her brother, musician Nic Potter in 2013 at the age of just 61. She is backed by a strong cast, with Javier Bardem taking the leading role, and Salma Hayek, Laura Linney and Elle Fanning playing the roles of the women in his life.

Bardem stars as Leo, a man who we first meet lying in bed unable to respond as the doorbell and phone ring incessantly. His mental deterioration has rendered him a shell of a man, who can't communicate or even recognise his daughter Molly (Fanning) when she eventually breaks the door down. She drags him first to the dentist, then the optometrist, and tries to control him as he rages against a world he can no longer understand. There is little help from his ex-wife (Linney), who sympathises with Molly but has no love left to give. The true Leo appears only in his memories, centred on a fractious day spent with his first love Dolores (Hayek) in Mexico, and another spent searching for inspiration for his writing on a Greek island. He escapes to those places as Molly is forced to deal with the grime of what is now everyday life for them.

The movie is an exploration of memory, loss and regret. Fanning shines in what, for much of the movie, is a one-woman show, but overall, it never really finds the emotional punch it's reaching for. A central point, reflected in the title, is the idea that Leo's memories explore the different paths he may or may not have taken, and how the choices he's made have sculpted his life and led him to where he is. We see glimpses of this, as he struggles with whether to join Dolores at a celebration of the Day of the Dead, and as he tries to justify his life to a young girl who reminds him of his daughter, but the idea is never played out to its fullest. The flashbacks end up coming across as a straight telling of the story of two important moments of his life, rather than delving any deeper. The narration is often heavy handed, as if Potter doesn't trust the audience to pick up on the cues, and spells out more than she should. At the end, there is a feeling that this is a movie that has an important story to tell, and has its moments, but never manages to engage with the viewers as it should.

Directed by
Sally Potter
Javier Bardem
Elle Fanning
Salma Hayek
Laura Linney
Runtime: 85 minutes
The Roads Not Taken (2020) on IMDb