The Roads Not Taken




A father and daughter struggle to reconnect when words fail in Sally Potter’s deeply personal and moving study of dementia. 

Roads Not Taken, The

Past retreat: Javier Bardem and Elle Fanning


Although a hugely personal work, The Roads Not Taken is perhaps Sally Potter’s most accessible film to date. It is dedicated to her brother, Nic Potter, who suffered from Pick's Disease, a variant of early onset dementia – and Javier Bardem fills those shoes with the grace of a wounded animal. His is one of the most cinematic faces of our time and his features provide the canvas for this often wordless tale of a man lost in his past.


He is Leo, a former novelist who has ended up in a miniature apartment in Bushwick, New York. His talent for words, which he has passed on to his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning), a journalist, now largely elude him as he struggles to navigate the simplest tasks of his everyday life. Molly has taken the morning off work to help her father to the dentist and to the optometrist, a dual endeavour that takes on an epic emotional arc – and of discovery. Set in three different time lines of Leo’s life – in Greece, his native Mexico and Brooklyn – the film pieces together these salient moments that are to coalesce in a sort of human epiphany, both for Molly and for us, the audience.


While Javier Bardem is never short of mesmerising, a tragic, deflated bull of a man, it is left to Elle Fanning to provide the emotional heavy-lifting. At just 22, the former child star has evolved into a mature adult actress, conveying much with a minimum of demonstration. The film itself, both a study of mental degeneration and a narrative jigsaw puzzle, is an interior work that demands some patience from the viewer. Last year’s What They Had, which dealt with the Alzheimer's of Blythe Danner’s former carer, was a more comprehensive piece in that it dealt with the viewpoints of a wider family dynamic. Yet, as a tender hymn to the delicate bond between a father and daughter lost in a disintegrating mental web, this road is certainly worth taking for those willing to indulge its headspace.




Cast: Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Laura Linney, Salma Hayek, Branka Katic, Milena Tscharntke, Katia Mullova-Brind, Waleed Akhtar.


Dir Sally Potter, Pro Christopher Sheppard, Screenplay Sally Potter, Ph Robbie Ryan, Pro Des Carlos Conti, Ed Sally Potter, Jason Rayton and Emilie Orsini, Music Sally Potter, Costumes Catherine George.


BBC Films/HanWay Films/BFI/Ingenious/Chimney Pot/Sverige AB/Adventure Pictures/Film i Väst-Universal Pictures.

85 mins. UK/Sweden/USA/Poland/Spain. 2020. Rel: 11 September 2020. Cert. 15.