This film was previously reviewed in February 2020 as part of our Berlinale Film Festival coverage.

The gradual loss of a person to dementia is an incredibly painful process to witness; Sally Potter draws on her own experience in her latest project, which has finally made it to the screen after a long gestation period.

As Molly (Elle Fanning) attempts to navigate her father’s schedule of a single day – which inexplicably includes visits to both the dentist and the optometrist – Leo (Javier Bardem) is rarely actively present in the moment. Instead, his mind jumps back and forth between past and present – between what is and what might have been. Potter weaves together three narrative strands with the aim to capture a man’s fractured and deteriorating mind.

The editing here is certainly cleverly done. Sights and sounds trigger Leo’s escapes into these alternate realities, and there is always a grain of real memory in them. One takes him back to his native Mexico, where he and his childhood sweetheart Dolores Dolores (Salma Hayek) are mourning the death of their son; another is set in Greece, where he is trying to find a suitable ending to his novel. The concept unquestionably has merit, but Potter’s script offers incredibly formulaic plots for these narratives while never fully fleshing out any of her characters. 

Without any sense of the relationship between father and daughter before his illness took hold of Leo, this, too, lacks depth; when Molly tells him towards the end that “you will always be you”, who exactly this “you” is (or was) remains unclear; likewise her personal struggle seems less concerned for her father’s health than for her job.

The Roads Not Taken fails to portray both dementia and what it does to the people affected by it with real empathy or understanding. The film’s potential is still visible, but despite an all-star cast and beautiful cinematography, its execution falls woefully flat.



CAST: Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney

DIRECTOR: Sally Potter

WRITER: Sally Potter

SYNOPSIS: The film follows a day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem) and his daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning), as he floats through alternate lives he could have lived, leading Molly to wrestle with her own path as she considers her future.