The Roads Not Taken (2020) | Review

Sally Potter's latest feature takes us through the streets of New York and into the mind of Leo (Javier Bardem) who is simultaneously living three narratives over twenty-four hours. His daughter Molly (Elle Fanning) has assigned herself as his carer, taking him through all the mundanities of a, particularly conventional, day. He rarely speaks or shows any sign of understanding of reality except in rare flashes where he will exchange a word or two with Molly.

Despite the present, Leo is replaying memories of years gone by from an affair with Dolores (Salma Hayek) in Mexico and a lonely day on a Greek island. It is perhaps never made clear if these fantasies are merely a work of fiction despite a brief reference from his present-day ex-wife Rita (Laura Linney) to his history with Dolores.

The Roads Not Taken is seemingly an ode to the crushing nature of flirting with alternate realities in our minds as a way to pass the time or romanticise a grander existence for ourselves. The lack of aliveness in Leo is haunting, particularly against the backdrop of a struggling Molly, doing her best to receive any sign of life from her father. They build brilliant on-screen chemistry that is, at times, uncomfortable and soul-crushing to watch.

Molly is perhaps a little too saintly for the former half of the film, doing her best to play the dutiful daughter until she tells Leo she's "going to have to make some hard decisions". Her existence is falling apart around her to the rhythm of Leo's chaos. Every moment spent making sure he is okay and living half a life is taken from her job, her home, her autonomy. Fanning is a knockout in all roles lucky to have her, and the way she layers nuance with just a look lends itself perfectly to Molly's inner turmoil. There's a moment caught so tenderly by the film's prolific cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, where the light briefly hits her face to reveal a single tear before it disappears as quickly as it came.

Potter is gracious with her actors, yielding long un-cut takes that capture the mundane, so justly they almost feel dystopian. Walking between the lines of trolleys queued up inside a car park, wide-open space in a supermarket to reveal Leo and Molly donning the same outfit, Molly mimicking the action of crossing her arms alongside her mother. They're all such subtle moments that lend themselves to a grander meaning.

It is a quiet film, and at times, hard to be sure of what's real and what isn't but amidst it is a silent study of a growing disregard for society's most vulnerable. Everyone who crosses paths with Leo and Molly share little to no compassion for their circumstance, and perhaps this element of the film is too subtle to divulge, despite occasional signpost moments of racism and disparaging glances. Maybe Leo's story would've best been served by exploring these moments, but then it would've no longer been his conscious reality.

The Roads Not Taken will be released in UK and Irish Cinemas from September 11th 2020.

Until next time

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