The Roads Not Taken (2020)

I’ve had a bit of break again for the last week and a half, as things are busy at work, and preparing to move to the other side of the world, but I’ve seen a few more films in cinemas (all directed by women as usual), and as Miss Juneteenth is out this Friday in the UK, I’ll post reviews of the cinema releases I’ve seen since the last week I dedicated to these. I’m starting on Women Filmmakers’ Wednesday with the new Sally Potter film, a great director and already a veteran of several decades. Perhaps her recent films haven’t been my favourite of her work, but she’s still producing interesting drama at under-90-minute lengths.


Sally Potter’s most recent film is about a fragile relationship between the creative urge and memory in an older man, as his mind becomes fragmented in a period of dementia. It uses Javier Bardem in a small apartment by the subway tracks in New York, and contrasts this quotidian and slightly sad setting with him living by the sea in Greece as a writer, and again with Salma Hayek in Mexico, each time pursuing relationships that, as the title suggests, perhaps he never did do and perhaps has only imagined. So in fact, we get three outcomes for the same man’s life, three ways things could have gone, and who’s to say which is right; perhaps in his dementia, he’s imagining these lives, but perhaps just as much he (as a writer in Greece) has written the life of the man in NYC, whose daughter (and this is a stretch) is played by Elle Fanning. I like a lot of what Potter is doing here, but I don’t think it really quite comes off — partly perhaps because Bardem’s dementia performance seems like a caricature, or a fancible creation by a writer (although, to be fair, it could be a creation by another character within the film as much as outside it). I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, but I think it’s a nifty idea.

The Roads Not Taken film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Sally Potter; Cinematographer Robbie Ryan; Starring Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney; Length 85 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Tuesday 15 September 2020.

The Gold Diggers (1983)

I’ve been reading B. Ruby Rich’s memoirs and essay collection from her time in the 1970s and 1980s as a feminist film critic (Chick Flicks) and as she discusses Sally Potter’s breakthrough film work, I thought it timely to watch her first feature, much though I’ve had the DVD on my shelves for the past five years. It wasn’t exactly a success at the time, and looking at it you can understand why: it defiantly avoids anything commercial or saleable. It’s a deeply impenetrable film with a dissociative editing style that seems to hint at many issues and flirt with many different genres, to the extent that it’s generically unclassifiable. Comments on the packaging call it a sci-fi musical, though it doesn’t have any song setpieces and it’s sci-fi to extent of making our world seem alien. You could add in period drama to the mix pretty easily (the Icelandic landscapes and scenes of panning for gold, along with some ballroom costume sequences), but perhaps it could be called a psychodrama of identity, and what it means to be a woman within the recursive forms of filmed illusionism. I mean, perhaps? I don’t even know for sure, but I do know that I’ll need to watch it again to get some sense. In the meantime, for those looking at it but not following along easily (as I was), it’s a gorgeous film to look at, with some of the most spectacular black-and-white images from any film, thanks to its cinematographer (and Chantal Akerman collaborator) Babette Mangolte.

CREDITS
Director Sally Potter; Writers Lindsay Cooper, Rose English and Potter; Cinematographer Babette Mangolte; Starring Julie Christie, Colette Laffont; Length 89 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 19 August 2015.