The Roads Not Taken
- James Mottram
- 7 September 2020
Sally Potter delivers a day in the life of a dementia sufferer, played by Javier Bardem
British institution Sally Potter's latest, The Roads Not Taken, is her starriest effort since 2000's The Man Who Cried, which featured Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett. This time she has Javier Bardem as her lead, and strong support from Elle Fanning and Salma Hayek. It's a story inspired by the medical history of Potter's musician brother Nic, who suffered from Pick's disease and died in 2013. In a film primarily set in New York, Bardem plays Leo, who we meet lying in his shabby apartment muttering to himself.
As we later discover, Leo has frontotemporal dementia, which makes even the most basic of tasks mountainous. When his daughter Molly (Fanning) takes him to a dental appointment, he wets his trousers and screams like a child. 'I just don't know what you're saying!' Molly cries later in despair, with Leo virtually incomprehensible. As characters go, Leo belongs, loosely, with Bardem's quadriplegic right-to-die campaigner in The Sea Inside and his dying father in Biutiful.
Where the film falters is with two alternative histories belonging to Leo that are spliced between the New York action. Blending reality and fiction, these hallucinatory stories play out in Leo's mind. One sees him with his childhood sweetheart Dolores (Hayek) back in Mexico, in a narrative shot through with tragedy. The other finds him on a Greek island, as a writer who abandoned his daughter to pursue his literary ambitions.
Such scenes are left open to interpretation by Potter and they disrupt the flow of the main narrative as much as they offer relief from Leo's muddled psyche, as he seemingly reimagines his life. But The Roads Not Taken does boast sterling work from the main trio – plus the ever-excellent Laura Linney, as Leo's snarky ex. It's not exactly Potter at her finest, but her heart is undoubtedly in the right place.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 11 Sep.