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Sally Potter’s The Roads Not Taken is a sad, painful, self-conscious vignette of a film with forthright performances; it’s a chamber piece in many ways, but with bold flashback excursions that come close to causing its emotional engine to overheat.
Javier Bardem plays Leo, a writer in New York who has suffered a stroke and now lives, by choice, in a grim single room, attended by a carer, Xenia (Branka Katic). The only person who still appears to love him is his daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning), who one chaotic day has to take him to the dentist and optician, while dealing (via her cellphone) with a stressful work situation.
Meanwhile, Leo is plagued with memories of tragedy back in Mexico with his first love, Dolores (Salma Hayek), and also with a nervous breakdown he appears to have had in his later married life when Molly was a baby – perhaps the origin of his current state. He was spending time on a Greek island, theoretically working on a book, but really in retreat from his new American family, and he became entranced there by a beautiful young woman (Katia Mullova-Brind) – a dangerous, vivid epiphany that in his stricken state he cannot explain or express to Molly, however much he wants to and however desperate she is to understand him.
This is a fervent performance from Bardem whose great, bull-like head, pulsing with contained spiritual pain, looms out of the screen. He is the paterfamilias, the sacred monster who exasperates and captivates his daughter and also his ex-wife – a peppery, unsympathetic cameo for Laura Linney. (Surely it can’t be long before Bardem plays Picasso?)
The film seems sometimes to be reaching for ideas and moods that it cannot fully encompass, but I loved the rapport between Fanning and Bardem, especially when Leo mortifyingly has an accident at the dentist. Molly lends him her own trousers (she herself is wearing a long coat) and buys them both a matching pair of purple jeans from a discount store.
• The Roads Not Taken is in cinemas.
Source: The Guardian
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