The Roads not Taken (Sally Potter, 2020)
Potter has produced some tremendous films over the years — Orlando and The Man Who Cried, plus Ginger & Rosa and The Party — and the initial success of the latter allowed her to make this deeply uncomfortable film, inspired by caring for her brother, Nic Potter, the bassist for the rock group Van der Graaf Generator.
The film begins with attempts to wake Leo (Javier Bardem) by his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning) and his helper — he is staring at the ceiling in his New York appartment and is not all there.
This might because he is in Mexico, with his wife Dolores (Salma Hayek), unwilling to mark their loss on the Day of the Dead.
Or in Greece, having left his family behind, to try to write a novel about going home, but being distracted by a woman the age of (possibly) his daughter.
Leo has some kind of dementia, so it seems as if this is what he is experiencing or what he remembers, as Molly struggles to get him to the dentist and the opticians, when he can’t control his courage or his bladder. To some, in classic Do He Take Sugar? mode, he is invisible, to others he is lucky they haven’t shot him.
Bardem is astounding, baffling, but painful to watch, whilst Fanning shifts between despair and determine with convincing speed. Meanwhile Hayek is a little underused in the Mexican sections and the Greek stuff don’t quite pay off, although one might think of Molly and Leo(pold) from a novel that draws on an earlier Odyssey. Laura Linney cameos as an ex wife — possibly one of several.
But despite such impressive performances, it is not much more than the sum of its parts (there is a whole thread filmed but excised), and it clearly isn’t an enjoyable Friday night out.