The Roads Not Taken (2020)

The Roads Not Taken has the best of motives – it’s acclaimed director Sally Potter’s way of conveying how her brother’s dementia fractured his personality. It’s very personal, maybe too personal.

A Day in the Life

by Alexa Dalby

The Roads Not Taken

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Javier Bardem is Leo, a Mexican writer in the US suffering from early onset dementia. He lives alone in New York in a squalid room overlooking the trains passing by. Yet he has a loving daughter (Elle Fanning), whose devotion to him is almost saintly. 

The film follows a day in their life as she takes him to medical and dental appointments. Things that happen as they travel the city trigger his brain to go off into hallucinations of fantasy lives he might have lived. 

There are bits of the fiery relationship he had with Dolores (Salma Hayek), his first love in rural Mexico, who he would have married if he had not left for the US. And a melancholy interlude in a bar on a beautiful Greek island where he regretfully talks to an beautiful English tourist (Katia Mullova-Brind) about the wife and baby he left to pursue his writing. These are the roads he did not take.

Bardem plays well-differentiated past versions of Leo: but in the present he’s unable to speak, communicate, or even control his bladder as well as his mind. Weaved into these imagined fragments we see flashbacks of his real life – an unsympathetic divorced American wife (Laura Linney) – and the daughter he fantasised about leaving behind, who now seems to be the only person who cares about him, to the detriment of her career, as we see through phone calls during the day. But nothing is explained, there’s no back story about either of them or their relationship before dementia struck.

The Roads Not Taken is released on 11 September 2020 in the UK.

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