Eliza Hittman, UK | USA
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
The film begins with a song. A rather plain seventeen-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) dispassionately strums a guitar and belts out a ballad of destructive love at the high school talent show, much to the malicious sniggering of some teenage boys. One calls out “Slut!” She pauses, and then resolutely finishes her song. After Autumn’s performance her nervousness lingers. Sullen, expressionless yet composed, she clearly has something else on her mind. As scenes of domestic (un)bliss unfold, it becomes obvious that her parents, and especially her step-father, are not the ones to share it with. So Autumn turns to her best friend and cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) who immediately understands her grave plight; Autumn is pregnant and doesn’t want to keep the baby.
In Pennsylvania it is impossible for girls under the age of 18 to have a legal abortion without their parent’s permission. So Autumn and Skylar pocket some money from the grocery store where they work after school and head off on a bus to Planned Parenthood in New York City. Innocents from rural America, they walk the streets of the city hoping for deliverance. On the bus they meet a nameless nerdy young man (Théodore Pellerin, who also appears in MY SALINGER YEAR at the Berlinale) who takes a real liking to the blue-eyed beauty Skylar, so they swap phone numbers. Was this a grave mistake? Watching these two feckless teenage girls alone in New York City is unnerving; there is always a lingering sense of dread that they are one step away from a terrible fate.
The film is full of silences. Dialogue is scarce in this movie which begins in rural, blue-collar Pennsylvania before moving onto the bright lights of Times Square. Autumn and Skylar have very little need for conversation. They have hardly any money and no place to stay. They are two inseparable friends on a quest inexplicitly schlepping an oversized suitcase around the streets and steps of the city.
In a stirring long take scene at Planned Parenthood, Autumn is told to answer “Never, rarely, sometimes, or always” to questions about her sexual history. As the counselor’s questions become more probing, it is clear that Autumn has endured a lot. Her stoic brushed-away tears and darting eyes tell the story of sexual abuse. She hardly says a word.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is a moving film about an uncomfortable topic. Both the slow, deliberate pace and the power of silence are internalized and embraced by its exceptional actors.