Features Live Action Movies

The Roads Not Taken

Director – Sally Potter – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 85m


A man drifts through separate existences and times while his daughter struggles to look after him in present day New York City – in cinemas from Friday, September 11th

This is something of a disorienting experience because it slips and shifts effortlessly between separate realities. Molly (Elle Fanning) is taking the day off work in New York to spend time with her dad Leo (Javier Bardem) who lives in a crummy apartment the front access door of which opens onto a busy main street. Her plan is to get him to appointments at the dentists and the opticians in the morning, then be in work for an important meeting in the afternoon. However, it doesn’t work out like that.

At the start, the phone rings and the buzzer goes repeatedly. Molly is in a taxi and his Leo’s maid Xenia (Branca Katic) is outside his front door. Eventually they’re inside, Molly having presumably forced their way in. “Everything is open”, he says to her as he lies, in a daze, in bed. “It’s not, actually, dad,” she replies. “The front door is closed.” She brings him the photo of his late and beloved dog Nestor from the mirror across the room.

He’s not in that bed, though – he’s in another in Mexico, where he tells Dolores (Salma Hayek) “it’s become a fucking circus”. And then he’s in a bar on the coast of a Greek island looking out onto the sea. Thinking. Struggling with the ending for his book.

Events are told from Leo’s point of view – or rather, points of view plural, the third of which is present day New York as he slips in and out of that reality while his daughter is part exasperated and part holding everything together. Inevitably everything she’d planned doesn’t get done by lunchtime, she misses her work meeting and consequences follow. Thinking he’s travelling in Mexico, he gets out of their hired yellow cab and bloodies his head on the pavement, adding a trip to the hospital to their itinerary.

It’s a constant visual feast and marvel of editing, whether Bardem is lying on cobs of corn in the back of a Mexican truck, turning to look at the two young girls on the table next to him in the Greek bar or making his way down a cul-de-sac formed of shopping trolleys in the present. In the hospital, we meet his ex-wife and Molly’s mum Rita (Laura Linney) who has long since divorced him and is now married to someone else.

In his present life he seems lost and in need of looking after, but in the other two existences everything seems rich in possibilities. Everyone else appears grounded – his daughter, his ex, his prior lover, even the girl (Milena Tscharntke) to whom he takes a shine at the Greek bar – while he floats though his three separate existences to the irritation of a stream of professionals (dentist, doctor, optician) and others he comes across. Part drama, part multiple dream poem, this is an extraordinary movie demanding full sensual immersion. It has a great score (by Potter herself) to boot.

The Roads Not Taken is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 11th.


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