In this moving film, Leo (Bardem) has lost his grip on reality and fallen into the abyss that is dementia.For the entire 85 minutes the film plays out, we watch him as he struggles to get back to something he can’t quite nail down. We flip-flop back and forth between his intellectual impairment and the present time. It starts off a little daunting, but as you get to know him, you feel more comfortable with the process that writer/director, Sally Potter (The Party, The Tango Lesson), took to give her audience an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have had. It’s pretty incredible to go inside the mind of a man who lives in the past, which is all he knows, while at the same time, watching his body attempt to navigate the two worlds it currently resides. For that alone, I believe this is one to watch.
Leo’s devoted and fatigued daughter, Molly, played beautifully by Elle Fanning, takes him on his appointments to try to keep some connection with her father. On this day, she shows up at his less than perfect dwelling to accompany him on a few appointments. She’s tormented about what’s best for him but feels normalcy in his life, such as living on his own, is essential to give him a chance to recover. A nurse checks in on him when she can’t be there, so Molly feels he’s relatively safe.
As poor Molly deals with his mental and physical disabilities, Leo sees a woman, Dolores (Hayek), for whom he loves has a rocky relationship with, to say the least. When we meet her, they have a fiery spat. We eventually learn that Dolores was his first love, not that you didn’t already suspect this to be the case. As their hostile exchange continues, we learn more about who he is and one of the main reasons why he’s in the position he’s in now. Unless this is all just fantasy, of course, and that’s the beauty of how Potter chose to tell this story. You’re unsure of what’s real and what isn’t. For the most part, this works in her favor. She’s good with subtleties if nothing else.
As we are with Dolores, we’re taken on Leo’s journey as a writer. He asks two female tourists he meets in Greece, one of whom reminds him of someone Leo once knew, if he can get their opinion on the ending of his book. The book is about a man’s expedition back to his family, who he left many years previously. Was his decision the right one and will he be accepted back if he returns? This part of the narrative is insightful and a profoundly emotional way to state a point regarding the mentally ill. Through these scenes and Molly’s concern about whether people address Leo adequately or not, Potter demonstrates how much she cares about this topic. She shows that just because someone can’t respond the way we’re used to them responding, it doesn’t mean they don’t hear you, sense you, or are even perfectly conscious of their surroundings. Sadly, they’re just unable to do anything about the situation with which they are currently mired.
As I mentioned, three storylines going at once might be too much for some, but if you enjoy influential indie films with incredible acting, this is the ticket. Bardem and Fanning are superb. While we observe his fumbling about, incoherent, and his seemingly unconscious state of mind, we also witness the pained existence Fanning gives Molly. She genuinely wants a connection with the father she loves so much, that she has given up almost everything else in her life to be there if it ever happens.
*I’ll update you soon on where to see the film.
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The Roads Not Taken
Director: Sally Porter
Writer: Sally Porter
Stars: Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Laura Linney and Salma Hayek
Running Time: 1h 25m